This year’s crop of Hermiston second graders are already getting a jump on next summer.

All the district’s second graders are spending one day at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center this week, getting a two-hour water safety lesson. The day includes learning how to put on life jackets, breathing techniques and basic strokes.

Hermiston Parks and Recreation has partnered with the Hermiston School District to offer lessons, with the hopes of identifying kids that may need further water safety training.

Recreation Supervisor Brandon Artz said the idea came about because the pool was going to have some extended hours this year.

When Blue Mountain Community College closed its pool, the city decided to keep the pool open until mid-October so that the high school girls’ swim team could practice there. In the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association, which Hermiston High School now competes in, girls swimming is a fall sport.

He said the longer season gave them an opportunity to offer more swim lessons.

“We got to talking about water safety, and thought, could we get schools and kids here,” Artz said.

Artz said he hopes the program will continue for the next few years.

On Wednesday, students from Sunset Elementary were at the pool, enjoying a sunny day as they honed their water skills. Students practiced staying afloat in the water with kickboards, retrieving rings from the floor of the shallow pool and jumping off the diving board.

Aquatic center manager Kasia Robbins said the pool staff focused on several different areas of water safety.

“Knowing how to bob to safety — using your height and the push of a jump to get yourself to where you can stand,” she said.

They also taught students about the importance of floating.

“If anything can save you, it’s rolling over, putting your head up and floating till you get to safety,” she said.

Robbins said they also taught students the importance of having an adult present when they’re in the water, and how to put their faces in the water.

At the end of the lesson, all students got sent home with a report card, scoring them from a level of 1 to 5 in different areas — 5 being mastery of the skill.

“They tell whether the child can float, do arm strokes, kicks, if they can bob to safety,” Robbins said. Each report card also offers students a week of swim lessons for $10.

Robbins said the school district covered the cost of buses, as well as towels and swimsuits for kids who don’t have them.

“We hope spending the money saves a life,” Robbins said.

Cherilyn Spencer, a second grade teacher at Sunset Elementary, said she was glad students were getting exposure to the water.

“This is a life skill,” she said. “Some students hadn’t ever been here (to the pool) before. With all the water we have around here, it’s important.”

P.E. teachers from all five elementary schools were at the pool all week, helping with land instruction. Bret Favorite of West Park helped students practice different types of arm strokes before they got into the water, and Greg Hamm of Rocky Heights showed them how to put on life jackets correctly.

In the water, students got lessons from Hermiston High School students who had worked as lifeguards and swim teachers throughout the summer.

“The high school was really awesome working with us to excuse those students to come out and take part of this,” Artz said.

In addition to the Hermiston girls swim team, the Pendleton Swim Club has also been traveling to Hermiston four days a week to use the pool.

“It goes back to the fact that we need an indoor aquatic center,” Artz said. “We’re happy to have them. We want to provide opportunities for kids to swim.”

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