Making kids water smart to keep them water safe!
WAYS is a non-profit organization in Pensacola, Florida, established in the fall of 2016. Our mission is to educate children in our area to make them safer in and around water.
Pensacola has water everywhere. Our residents not only enjoy the Gulf but we also have multiple bayous, rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams. There are almost 11,000 homes with pools and/or hot tubs and close to 24,000 residences are located on our many waterways.
While all this water makes Pensacola a wonderful place in which to live it also presents an ever-present danger to our residents, especially our children. Drowning is the 2nd leading cause of unintentional death among children under the age of 14.
In 2008, the Pensacola Association of Realtors Community Relations Committee recognized there was no organized effort to address this issue and started a free swim program for area 2nd graders. This early effort consisted of a classroom session on water safety and a voucher for free swim lessons.
In 2012, committee leaders changed the program to its current format. In order to make this change PAR reached out to the Greater Pensacola Aquatic Club, the Escambia County School District and the City of Pensacola Parks and Recreation Department. These founding organizations helped to create WAYS Pensacola.
We still have those classroom sessions but we now also include a hands-on lesson at a local pool. We called the new event Pensacola Water Safety Day and it is part of the worldwide International Water Safety Day. Locally, we have chosen to continue working with 2nd graders.
In the classroom sessions we cover many items such as where you find water, how deep does water have to be for someone to drown, what do the flags on the beach mean, where to swim when you go to the beach, what items do you take to the beach, how to properly wear a life jacket, what to do if someone you’re with gets into trouble in the water and more.
The following week the students take a field trip to the pool to put what they learned in the classroom into practice. There are multiple stations at the pool including the Throw Don’t Go station. This is where the kids get a chance to “rescue” a classmate.
At other stations our volunteers evaluate each child’s ability in the water following a list of activities provided by GPAC and approved by the school district.
In 2016 we added a second Water Safety Day and we now educate between 800-900 2nd graders a year on how to be safer in and around water. We have also added relationships with the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Florida Department of Health, the Santa Rosa Island Authority lifeguards, the U. S. Navy, and the University of West Florida.