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Diving into the community to keep kids safe

City teens learn swimming safety from UMass Chan students and faculty

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See how this collaboration with the community is keeping kids safer. Watch our video

When classes let out each summer, it’s not unusual for medical students, faculty and research associates to spend time around a pool. Afterall, it’s a great way to relax. But more than a dozen people connected with UMass Chan Medical School, actually volunteered to spend time this past summer teaching more than 100 area teenagers about the importance of water safety.

“We’ve been able to adapt the program to the skill levels of each swimmer and find different ways to meet kids where they’re at and really improve their confidence and strength in the water,” said Katharine Playter, a second-year medical student and one of the co-leaders of the Water Safe Worcester program.

The program is aimed at preventing drowning deaths among young people in Worcester by teaching them to recognize the signs of danger while swimming in the city’s lakes and ponds. According to the CDC, for children age 5 to 14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.

“Every kid needs this sort of thing. It’s a great combination of water safety and water skills. It’s especially important with this age group because even though they might be able to swim, this program stresses the importance of understanding their surroundings and environment, how to be safe in the water, and how to take care of themselves and each other,” said Pam Suprenant, vice president of youth development and community services for the YMCA of Central Massachusetts.

UMass Chan medical students, PhD candidates, research associates, residents and faculty served as instructors, led by medical students Kendall Lavin-Parsons, Erin Hurley and Playter, under the oversight of Kaitlyn Wong, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of surgery and pediatrics, and Alycia Valente, MD, MBE, assistant professor of emergency medicine.

“Everyone knows the risk for little kids because they haven’t yet learned how to swim. However, adolescents also have a fairly high risk of drowning too, particularly the inner-city population as they have less opportunity to get in a pool to swim,” said Dr. Wong.

Medical student Lavin-Parsons oversees public safety messaging for the project. Thanks to a local foundation, funding was provided for water safety signs that will be placed around the city’s lakes and ponds. The signs will have QR codes to access the safety tips and warnings in a variety of languages.

The UMass Chan volunteers also organized hands-only CPR classes. Hurley, a former lifeguard, provided the teens with the instruction.

“Worcester is a welcome and open community, and we are going to keep having folks move here from all over, so we need to make sure the messaging around our ponds and lakes speaks to everyone about the possible dangers around our recreation sites,” Dr. Valente said.

The collaboration between UMass Chan volunteers and the YMCA provided a unique experience that targets a serious health issue. Because of the success of the classes, they will now be offered as 10-week programs year-round.

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