The Water for Life School Professional Development Program is offered to children and teachers at Witherlea School.
Going to their school’s heated swimming pool twice a day between October and April, it’s fair to say that students at Waitaria Bay School are pretty good at swimming.
But the 19 students at one of New Zealand’s most remote schools have yet to learn water safety skills, as have their two teachers.
The school in Kenepuru Sound was one of the first to receive the new water safety development program for primary school teachers, delivered by Marlborough Lines Stadium 2000.
Developed in partnership with Swim NZ, ACC and Water Safety NZ, the scheme was launched in January for schools with a swimming pool amid growing demand for swimming lessons in the region.
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“The goal is for our instructors to teach teachers skills and lesson plans that they can then teach the kids when their pools are open for term 1 and 4 because at the end of the day teachers are trained to be teachers in a classroom,” said Jack Foley, operations manager of Marlborough Lines Stadium 2000.
Waitaria Bay School principal Laura Thompson said it was really helpful to have an outside facilitator to teach children and staff.
“She could see what we were teaching but also what we hadn’t taught.
“They [the children] weren’t very good at saving lives, saving energy, lying on their backs, none of them could walk on water…
“The other thing that really stood out to me was not just using brightly colored pool equipment for their learning, but making sure you use everyday items.
“It doesn’t have to be a pool noodle to float, you can use an overturned bucket, a broomstick,” Thompson said.
“We’re surrounded by the ocean here, so it’s a very important life skill for kids who live here to be able to have water safety and water swimming skills,” Thompson said.
Swimming was part of the national curriculum and it was expected that all students would have the opportunity to learn basic aquatic skills by the end of sixth grade.
Of Marlborough’s 29 schools, 22 had a swimming pool – a higher rate than the national average, Foley said.
The Department of Education has not fully funded school pools, but has provided operational funding through its Property Maintenance Grant (PMG).
Funding could be used either to run and maintain a pool or to travel and enter a public pool.
With another 200 swimming lesson bookings for this time of year, there were waiting lists at Stade 2000.
Stadium 2000 general manager Bridget Taylor said she has seen an increase in demand at swim schools, in part because of drowning statistics last summer.
Over the Christmas and New Year holidays, 14 people drowned, the highest number in 40 years.
“What we’re doing is training more teachers as we adapt to this community need,” Taylor said.
“We take great pride in the service we provide to the community, and it is important that our swimming teachers are well trained and qualified, this process takes time,” she said.
Over the past five years, the center averaged 20 instructors per term.
“We live on islands, and it is essential that children access and receive water safety instructions.
“Our goal is that no child in Marlborough misses water safety lessons.”
Sharon Brettkelly from The Detail spoke to Mundy from the Omanu Surf Life Saving Club in Mt Maunganui about our terrible drowning statistics and why Australia is ahead of New Zealand when it comes to solving the problem.