Jacksonville families participate in world's largest swim lesson

By Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's one of the leading causes of death in Florida for young children, but Thursday there was a worldwide initiative to reduce the risk of childhood drowning.

Children got an important lesson on swimming and also got to be world-record holders for participating in the world's largest swimming lesson.

Starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, tens of thousands of children and adults around the world gathered for a 30-minute lesson to attempt a new record for the world's largest swimming lesson.

With the help of Safe Kids Northeast Florida, several Jacksonville locations hosted the event, including Swimming Safari, off J. Turner Butler Boulevard on Hodges Boulevard.

"The mission of the world's largest swim lesson is to promote water safety and drowning prevention," Swimming Safari general manager Casey Del Prete said.

Del Prete said water familiarity is a critical piece of keeping children safe, especially being in Northeast Florida.

"There's lakes, there's streams, ponds, everything, so kids are always really close to a body of water," Del Prete said. "The big thing that we're doing differently today is talking to the kids about water safety and asking, 'Are you allowed to go in the water without a parent? What do you do if you get scared?' Things like that."

Children weren't the only ones getting a lesson in water safety. Parents also learned some important tips, like using a water watcher's tag while at the pool.

The tag is worn by the parent responsible for watching the pool and then handed off to the next parent every 10 minutes.

Del Prete said the water watcher designation is one of the best ways to keep children safe, especially at a pool party, because it ensures a dedicated set of eyes on the water at all times.

"So often we hear about parents who get distracted and really, that's all it takes for something to happen to their kids," Del Prete said.

Dawn Burstein and her 7-year-old daughter, Jessica, participated in Thursday's event.

"I just know that water safety is extremely important, so I had to get her swim lessons," Burstein said.

"My favorite part was when I floated by myself. I've never done that before!" Jessica said.

She said after the lesson, she's not afraid of the water anymore.

"They teach me how to become better," she said.

Cynthia Dennis, the coordinator of Safe Kids for Northeast Florida, said teaching children to become better swimmers is the goal of the event.

Every year the record has been broken, so Dennis is pretty positive that this will be another record-breaking event.

"It's just an exciting way to inform people and promote swim lessons," Dennis said.

Waterproof Jacksonville is another way the city is promoting water safety for underprivileged and military families in Jacksonville. To sign up for free swim lessons, go to coj.net

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