The Port Arthur News
As 5-year-old twins Kane and Kamryn VanderDoes jumped off the diving board into Maria and Greg Sims’ backyard swimming pool, no one would guess they had only started taking lessons five days ago.
Even in seven feet of water, the Port Neches kindergartners zoomed through the pool, kicking their feet as they performed a back crawl or tread water for nearly an entire minute.
“It’s rewarding to see such progress in such a short amount of time,” Maria Sims, certified swim instructor, said about teaching people ages 2 and older.
Sims has been teaching youngsters how to swim for more than 10 years. The avid swimmer became certified and worked as a lifeguard in high school.
From May to July, Sims teaches several sessions that last eight days for 50 minutes each day.
When her two children were young, she said that she felt there weren’t many options for children to learn how to swim locally.
“Water’s everywhere around here — pools, lakes, the ocean,” Sims said. “I want to get kids to know their way around the pool if they were to accidentally fall in.”
Sims said people are never too young or old to learn basic swimming skills, which include include endurance, strokes and manuevering comfortably around the water. Many of her students come back after their first summer.
With 74 children drowning in Texas last year, it’s extremely important for young children to have an understanding of their surroundings, especially around water, said Shari Pulliam, media specialist for the Department of Family and Protective Services.
On Saturday, DFPS will host “Splash Safety,” at Lion’s Park, 6299 Jackson in Groves, where families can learn summer safety tips, in and out of water.
The event is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will have free food, door prizes and information on how to stay safe in the heat.
Half of the drowning deaths occurred in pools, according to the DFPS website, with the highest percentage being children under the age of 1.
“Children die every day in and out of the home,” Pulliam said. “It only takes a few inches of water for a child to drown.”
Even wearing floatation devices on their arms, children are never 100 percent safe in the water, Pulliam said, and the earlier they can be exposed to water safety, the better.
“It’s important to be proactive rather than reactive,” Pulliam said. “We want to teach people the importance of swimming lessons at a very early age.”
Groves resident Brian Simmons said that he’s seen a vast improvement in his son, Colton’s, swimming abilities since he started lessons earlier this week.
“We started teaching him how to swim last summer but since he’s been in class, he has grown leaps and bounds,” Simmons said about his 6-year-old Colton. “He’s kicking harder and jumping in by himself — he’s a lot more confident in the water.”
Like many other Southeast Texans, Simmons’ family are self-proclaimed “water bugs.”
“We spend a lot of time around the water — we have a pool and go to the beach a lot,” he said.
Though not everyone has a pool in their backyard, Pulliam said several drownings occurred not in the child’s family pool, but in their neighbors’.
“Kids are fascinated by water,” she said. “And drowning is a silent death — children drown while parents are out there. You have to keep eyes on kids every second around water.”
“There have already been 27 drowning deaths in the state of Texas this year and we’re not even hitting the hot summer months yet,” Pulliam said. “The best event is to teach kids to swim at an early age.”