Jacksonville school participates in world’s largest swimming lesson

Joani Maskell started teaching swimming at the age of 11 in her backyard.

Now, as the founder of Swimming Safari, she makes her dream of owning her own swimming school and teaching children the importance of water safety her priority.

As a Florida school, which has the highest accidental drowning rate in the country, the school’s top priority is preventing further cases of drowning.

To promote water safety, the school participated in the world’s largest swimming lesson, which takes place over 24 hours in approximately 600 locations in 20 countries on five continents. The event aims to raise awareness of the importance of teaching children swimming lessons.

Statistics from Florida Health show that the leading cause of death in children aged 1 to 4 is related to water safety. Swimming Safari is trying to get ahead of these numbers by starting lessons with children as young as 4 months old.

Since Jacksonville is located near the St Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean, being near water makes the problem of drowning much more serious, Maskell said.

Two parents at the event on Thursday reflected those concerns.

LeeAnn Parker, Cammile’s mother, said that since being on the water’s edge often her daughter needed a professional trainer, and since then she has seen a lot of improvement.

Saundra Jackson, a doctor, said she sees a lot of drowning cases and thinks it is important for her to enroll her 2-year-old son, Mason, in swimming lessons.

How do you get the biggest swimming lesson in the world?

Event sponsors send journal sheets to participating locations and require the institution and faculty to monitor the event and ask students to record their names after receiving the swimming lesson. At the end of the day, the school submits the journal sheets to the organization, which lists the names of the participants.

Teaching to swim is not the only priority.

Maskell preaches the importance for adults to take an active role in the care of their children.

The school requires parents to make a commitment to watch the water, which requires them to wear a badge when watching children swim and to disconnect between parents so that a designated person can watch the children.

In this way, Maskell said that someone’s eyes are always on the pool and no one is assuming someone else is watching.

Instructor Sara Odom mentioned that children are even more sensitive to water safety issues in larger groups of people.

“Children are notorious escape artists,” Odom said, adding that when children are in a large group it gives adults false confidence. “The more people present, everyone assumes someone else is watching, and often times it’s actually the other way around.”

Odom was a competitive swimmer herself and was personally affected by the drowning of two relatives. She said seeing how the kids are so excited to swim with her close to her heart.

Once adults and students make the commitment, they are allowed to continue their swimming lessons, which last an average of 30 minutes.

Towards the end of their lesson, students write their names on the event sheets and get a certificate of participation as a team member.

Maskell estimates that by the end of the day, more than 100 students from his institution will have participated in the 10th anniversary of the world’s largest swimming lesson.