Apr 262011

More than 1,000 students went to college this week to learn water safety, while getting a day off from school, winning stuffed animals and inking their handprints under a pledge to watch water hazards.

The students came from Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, Ahwatukee and the Salt-River Reservation to participate in the 12th annual Water Safety Day on Tuesday at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

Among the games and activities was a poignant reminder: 20 pairs of children’s shoes representing children who drowned last year in Maricopa County.

The tiny shoes lined a walkway next to silhouettes of children’s faces, each standing for water-related incidents last year in the Valley. Of the 80 other children who nearly drowned, eight will have a lifelong disability. Some of those children become patients of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, which sponsors the event.

“It’s part of our injury-prevention center,” said Allison Otu, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Students participated in a six-week class before attending Tuesday’s safety day. Drowning prevention education is aimed at first-graders because studies show they retain the message best, Otu said.

Drowning-prevention education appears to be working. The drowning rate has fallen to the lowest per capita in 20 years.

One child each from Chandler, Gilbert and five adults from Phoenix have died in water-related incidents in the first three months of 2011.

Water Watchers began in 1998 after 3-year-old Weston Letter died in his family’s swimming pool.

The annual water-safety day marks the kickoff to swimming season. Valley temperatures hit the high 90s this week.

At Tuesday’s safety day, emergency workers demonstrated water rescues. Students watched a puppet show, played carnival games and toured firetrucks.

They also recited the ABCs – adult supervision, barriers and classes – of drowning prevention with prodding from their teachers.

“I learned to be safe around water,” said Malachi Solomon, a 7-year-old first-grader at Islands Elementary School in Gilbert.

Ethan Alexander, a first-grader at Chandler Traditional Academy-Freedom campus, said he learned that water safety is “really important.”

Although his parents don’t have a swimming pool, Ethan said he wants a boat.

“I’m going to convince them,” he said.

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