Weatherford Star-Telegram

Swim lessons at this place are a blast ... and could help Texas children’s lives

Swim instructor Nathasha Arendall works with 3-year-old Titus Montalvo in a water safety program, which is the main focus of The Swim Lesson People in Weatherford.
Swim instructor Nathasha Arendall works with 3-year-old Titus Montalvo in a water safety program, which is the main focus of The Swim Lesson People in Weatherford. Special to the Star-Telegram

There are few things that can stand their ground with the intense summer heat. A dip in a cool body of water tops the list, be it a pool, lake or even a nearby creek.

With this relief, however, comes a danger, especially for youngsters. Child drownings is another thing for which Texas is well-known.

As of late September, 80 children had already drowned in Texas. More than a fourth of these occurred in North Texas.

“If you take 13 school buses filled with children, that’s how many kids die annually in the U.S. from drowning,” said Kathryn Lammers, owner of The Swim Lesson People (SWLP) in Weatherford.

Lammers and her crew at SWLP are focused on not only giving swim lessons, but also on educating youngsters and their families on the importance of water safety and respecting the water.

It’s a year-round program, and it has grown so popular that they recently moved into a new facility on Bankhead Highway. For seven years they hosted lessons in the nearby Best Western Motel on South Main.

Lammers sees the need to move as not only good for business, but also a good sign that parents are understanding the significance of water safety.

“We’ve been looking at getting our own place for two or three years, but this spring we were so full we were turning people away, and I don’t like to turn people away,” Lammers said. “There’s too much danger out there. Swimming can be incredibly fun, relaxing, and a great time to gather together, but you have got to understand what can happen in a short matter of time, especially with little kids.”

The SWLP teach children to be respectful of water and to always practice safety. They also stress to parents that they discuss water safety with their children.

They stress that just because a grownup is around doesn’t mean children are safe.

“That way it becomes a family conversation,” Lammers said. “I’m surprised at the number of parents who are disengaged when their kids are around water. Cellphones and tablets are the biggest distractions. A parent will look away to take a photo, and that small distraction is just enough for a disaster to occur.”

It was just such an incident that brought Shannon Ealey and her daughters, 4-year-old Maverick and 2-year-old Collins, to the Swim Lesson People.

“We actually had a close friend, their little boy passed away,” Ealey said. “We live on a ranch that has a pond, and that was an eye-opener.

“But they are learning so much here. I wouldn’t have thought how young they can grasp everything.”

Lammers said programs begin for children as young as 3 months old. There are almost 400 enrolled, and the vast majority are age 12 and under, she said, including about 150 babies.

“Little babies still have a lot of reflexes from living in mom’s belly,” she said.

“I am a nurse at Cook Children’s (Medical Center) and we saw a heightened amount of drownings this year,” said Ashley Wright, whose 3-year-old son, Titus Montalvo, is in the program. “I wanted to make sure he had the tools for water safety, and to make sure he’s comfortable around water, and I learned a lot as a parent also.”

Lammers started the Water Watchers campaign, in which adults take turn watching each others’ kids in the water. For example, if a group is at a party, each adult can take 10 or 20 minutes to monitor the children.

“We take turns being the lifeguard on duty, so to speak,” Lammers said. “You can watch while I fix lunch. You become part of a mini-community, with your kids’ safety as the main connection.”

She said this works for families at their home pool as well. And even at a public pool parents can help each other out, though she suggests never wandering away where you can’t see your own children.

Another popular idea implemented by her is the Buddy Swim, or never swim alone. That buddy, of course, has to be an adult.

She also stresses that youngsters understand the difference between “Big Water” and “Little Water.” In other words, always know the depth and stay within your range, something that goes for children and adults.

Lammers also suggested strongly that anyone purchasing a life jacket check to make sure it is Coast Guard-approved, such as the ones they provide.

“There are a ton of knockoffs out there. Make sure you check the label,” she said.

“This is Texas, and people aren’t going to stop swimming. But we can keep working to make swimming safer, and that’s why we’re here.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram