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Posted June 2, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Supervision, instruction key to preventing drowning

Lifeguard Lisa Rounds
Lifeguard Lisa Rounds watches James Burris, 29, of Stephens City, jump off the diving board at the Sherando Park pool over the weekend. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Adrianna Hughes walks down the disabled ramp
Adrianna Hughes, 7, of Frederick County, walks down the disabled ramp at the pool. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Lifeguard Jen Ewing
Lifeguard Jen Ewing watches Glen Williams, 14, from Stephens City flip off the diving board at the Sherando Park Pool over the weekend. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Lifeguard Peter Restrepo
Lifeguard Peter Restrepo watches people swimming at the Sherando Park Pool over the weekend. Andrew Thayer/Daily

The disabled ramp at the Sherando Park Pool
The disabled ramp at the Sherando Park Pool allows people to enter the pool safely on an incline rather than steps. Andrew Thayer/Daily

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By J.R. Williams -- jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

It's finally time to trade sweaters for swim trunks.

Recent warm weather is sure to get warmer. With it, families begin their annual flock to area pools for some relief. But how can parents be sure their excited children are safe?

Becky Lewandowski, aquatics supervisor for the Frederick County Parks and Recreation Department, said preventing injuries and accidents comes down to a simple rule.

"Watch your kids," she said. "Parents take for granted when they go to a water facility that lifeguards are the baby sitters. Parental supervision is the No. 1 safety precaution."

The Virginia Department of Health recently released a comprehensive study of drowning deaths throughout the state from 2002-2006. During that period, there were 430 unintentional drowning deaths, the fifth leading cause of unintentional death. According to the study, 79 percent of drowning victims are males.

Preventing drowning can be trickier for the young ones: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four drowning victims are children under 14.

Although swimming classes should not be used as the primary defense against drowning, learning water skills at a young age is important, said Lewandowski, a certified lifeguard training and water safety instructor.

When children are taught early to be comfortable in the water, there's less chance for a stubborn fear or phobia to develop once they get older. Learning from the right person is important, too -- parents who have poor water skills may pass those on to their children.

Preparation for each trip to the pool is equally critical. Many parents come to the pool unprepared and with unprepared children, Lewandowski said.

"It's a lot of common sense," she said. "But when people come to pools, they don't think of the dangers of the facility. They just need to be aware."

Children should be ready for the sun. That includes having sunblock on and reapplied frequently. Hats and plenty of water can prevent heat stroke or heat exhaustion -- a commonly forgotten danger. During heat stroke, body temperature can reach 106 degrees in 15 minutes, according to the health department.

Flotation devices should always be Coast Guard approved, she said. Many cheap, readily available "arm floaties" aren't allowed at Frederick County pools because of the false sense of security they create. These devices have a higher likelihood of popping, slipping off or leaking air.

Parents and children also should be aware of pool rules, especially that rules often change for each facility.

Stacey Herbaugh, facilities manager for the county, reiterated that preparing a child for the water through instruction is no substitute for a watchful eye on the deck. That's why in Frederick County, children under 13 aren't allowed inside the gate without an adult.

"We find a lot of parents don't watch their children closely enough," she said.

Several area organizations offer swim lessons this summer:

* The Winchester Parks and Recreation Department offers an introduction to the water for babies as young as 6 months and classes for teens and adults. Programs are available for all skill levels. Course fees range from $25 to $50, with discounts for members, and are usually held at Jim Barnett Park. Call 662-4946 or visit www.winchesterva.gov/parks for more information.

* The Frederick County Parks and Recreation Department also offers classes for all skill levels. Fees range from $23 to $40. Participants must demonstrate mastery of certain skills or take prerequisite courses in order to progress to the next level. Courses are held at various Frederick County public schools. Private lessons available for $15 per session. Call 665-5678 or visit www.co.frederick.va.us/parks for more information.

* The Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department follows the same curriculum as Frederick County. Classes are available for children and adults at varying skill levels for a $26 to $36 fee. Classes held at Clarke County Park. For more information, call 955-5140 or visit www.clarkecounty.gov.

* The Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation Department does not offer swim lessons, although instruction is available through individual towns.

* The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department offers swim lessons for children age 5 and up for a $50 fee. Different skill levels available. For more information, call 635-7750 or visit www.warrencountyva.net.

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