Mar 242012

Five-year-old Joseph Behner recently dove into a pool fully clothed from his long-sleeve shirt down to his dark blue jeans and laced-up sneakers.

He was among four other kids bobbing in the water fully clothed at Aqua-Tots Swim School in north Peoria during an afternoon class.

Although giggling and splashing, the young kids were taking part in a serious lesson — learning what it feels like to fall into water fully clothed.

Most drownings don’t occur in bathing suits, according to the swim school. Rather, it’s sometimes the child who has wandered into the backyard and stumbled into the pool. And it is a different sensation to be in water with the weight of jeans and sneakers.

“Little kids are curious about the water,” said El Mirage resident Marie Behner as she watched her young son in the pool.

Behner remembers a time when Joseph wanted to jump into their neighbors’ pool, out of curiosity. Joseph, being fully clothed and not knowing how to swim, got the OK from his mom and plunged into the pool.

“He sunk right to the bottom and I went in after him,” said Behner, who had also felt the weight of her clothes.

Now, after about a year of taking lessons at Aqua-Tots, Joseph is completely comfortable in the water — as Behner glanced over at him doing a nice backstroke during the lesson.

“They could be the best swimmer, but they don’t know how to swim with their clothes on,” she said. “The weight drags you down.”

Aqua-Tots trainer Laura Adrian, in the pool with the children, reminded them what to do if they’re in trouble: turn on your back and float.

The fully clothed swim lesson was part of the swim school’s drowning-prevention initiative.

Drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths for kids ages 1-14, according to the Peoria Fire Department.

“We’ve found a great need to start preparing our kids as early as possible,” said Jamie Cartledge, owner of the Aqua-Tots Peoria franchise, which opened in 2007 near 78th Avenue and Deer Valley Road.

The school teaches children ages 2ᄑ and up to swim and the recent session of swimming with regular clothes was added to their regular lesson.

The lessons will run quarterly; starting again mid-summer and in the fall, Cartledge said.

Maricopa County saw 49 drownings last year, according to Children’s Safety Zone, an Arizona-based organization that tracks drowning incidents.

This year, the Valley has seen three child fatalities involving water, according to a report by Children’s Safety Zone.

Last week, in Phoenix, a 2-year-old boy drowned after falling into an unfenced backyard pool near 59th Avenue and Encanto Boulevard.

Behner said she and her husband are more than excited that Joseph is learning about swim safety.

“This (program) is exceptional,” said Behner, “Joseph loves it, and can’t wait to come back.”

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