Taking Water Safety Seriously at CSM


Partnership Ensures St. Mary’s 5th-graders Learn RETHROG

With more than 500 miles of shoreline in St. Mary’s County, ensuring youngsters understand water safety is an important lesson. As a result of a $15,000 grant from the St. Mary’s Commissioners and with the resources of the College of Southern Maryland, the St. Mary’s County Public Schools this spring was able to offer its 59 classes of fifth-graders with free, interactive learning as they practiced invaluable water safety tips that may someday save a life.

“I am deeply satisfied that we are able to partner with both our Commissioners and the School District to provide this vital service. This is what community colleges are all about– helping to strengthen their communities. This is but one way that CSM is able to help the citizens of St. Mary's County. I want to thank the Commissioners and Dr. Mike Martirano for their support of this program and for their ongoing willingness to partner with CSM,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried.

The goal in providing basic water safety is to provide simple techniques that will help an individual to get out of the water or be able to help others struggling in the water, with the acronym RETHROG used to demonstrate the techniques of Reach, Throw, Row and Go.

“The Board of County Commissioners is thrilled with the success of the water safety program,” said St. Mary’s County Commissioner President Jack Russell. “The funding we've been able to provide is a small, yet significant investment when you take into account the life-saving benefit the program produces. This is a win-win for everyone involved,” said Russell.

Poolside instruction is reinforced with a classroom session. Each class learns basic skills such as how to wear a life jacket in a boat and to turn off the boat's motor and row if needed to retrieve a victim, how to perform a reaching assist and how to perform a throwing assist. Students participate in a classroom component that emphasizes the water skills that they learn. They also learn how to handle an emergency situation involving someone in danger, such as do not enter the water to save someone, perform an assist using common items such as a towel or pair of pants to perform these rescues, and seek help.

“SMCPS was delighted with this partnership for all of our fifth-grade students. This program provided a needed and most important learning opportunity. The feedback from teachers and students regarding the water safety program at CSM has been fantastic. Thank you for this great experience for our students and for continuing our strong and meaningful partnership,” said Superintendent of St. Mary’s County Public Schools Dr. Michael Martirano.

Fifth-grade is an ideal time to teach water safety, according to Judi Ferrara, assistant director of Wellness, Fitness and Aquatics at CSM’s Leonardtown Campus. “Fifth-graders have hit the maturity level to think through the skills we are teaching and to take water safety seriously. Their fear of the water is less than younger children, and this age group is more inclined to be around water in unsupervised environments.”

Poolside the fifth-graders are split into three groups to work individually at each station: life jacket, reaching assist and throwing assist. “Wherever you are, think about those places as we go through these stations that you could use to reach and assist someone in the water, whether you will extend something out to the victim or grab something that will float and throw it to the victim,” Tom Zelenak, CSM’s coordinator for aquatics and community services, told fifth-graders from Lexington Park Elementary during one recent water safety training session.

“The most important thing is to teach them confidence and to break water safety techniques down into small steps,” said Aquatic Instructor Gina Belcher after working with the youngsters in the Reaching Assist Station. The small steps she demonstrated and practiced with the students to reach and assist victims included: stay low, pull a skimmer or tree limb hand-over-hand to draw the victim close, and “don’t yank, otherwise you may lose your balance and become a water victim yourself.”

Readily available items that could be used for a throwing assist include such things as a ring buoy, a rescue tube, a throw bag or a cooler.

Instructor Cassie Osvatics explained that youngsters were advised the importance of wearing a life jacket during the life jacket station. “It’s very important they know to stay safe by the water and why to wear life jackets on a boat. They never know when a boat will break down and they will need it.”

The Go portion of RETHROG, explained Classroom Instructor Marianne Wilde, means, “Go for help! Never enter the water to help someone. Call 911. Get an adult.”

Lexington Park Fifth-Grade Teacher Phillip Gibson watched as his 14 fifth-graders practiced each station. “This is very well put together and organized. When we get back to class we will talk about what happened today, what they learned, what they will see at the pools they go to that could float or be used to throw in to help someone. We will link this to what they have at home or in their neighborhood that they can use in these situations they’ve practiced this morning.”

After finishing the three stations, Lexington Park Fifth-grader Aaron Smith had it down pat: “It’s been fun. I learned never go in (the water) when someone is (struggling). Instead go get help and find something to throw to them to help them.”

For more tips on water safety, view http://youtu.be/xXo9ZD0eHnc. For information on CSM’s Wellness, Fitness and Aquatics offerings, visit http://www.csmd.edu/CommunityEducation/WFR/.