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      New water safety program hopes to make big impact in schools

      Hundreds of Traverse City teens will be brushing up on their water safety skills this school year, thanks to a new program that organizers say could help save lives.

      Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation has teamed up with Traverse City Area Public Schools to create a water safety program for high school freshmen. Freshmen from Traverse City High School, Traverse City West Senior High School, and Traverse City Central High School will go through the program with their gym classes.

      "We're excited to work with Safe Kids North Shore, Grand Traverse County Health Department, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard to talk about hypothermia, shallow-water blackouts, and dry drowning (laryngospasm), said Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation director, Jason Jones. "We're also going to be utilizing some portions of a curriculum developed by the American Red Cross."

      Organizers say that the overwhelming number of water related deaths in Grand Traverse, Benzie, and Leelanau Counties from the past summer, brought on the idea to provide water safety instruction directly to students.

      "There have been 36 drowning deaths in the three county area since 2007 and a disproportionate number of these happened actually in 2013 in our local waterways in the Great Lakes," said Jones.

      Through the program, the 745 TCAPS freshmen will develop different water safety skills like what to do when someone is in trouble in the water, how to properly use a floatation device, and how to stay safe if you fall out of your canoe or kayak.

      "We believe this is very important and could be one of those things that prevents further future losses of lives in our area," said Jayne Mohr, Associate Superintendent for TCAPS.

      Organizers say they want to bring the program back next year, and that they hope other area schools get inspired to create their own water safety programs.

      "We put a lot of emphasis on drivers training through the schools for kids this age because they're going to be drivers and they're surrounded by cars," said Jones. "Why wouldn't we put the same emphasis on training considering we live in the middle of so much water?"

      The first session of the program is scheduled to take place on October 23, 2013 from 8:30a.m. to 11:30a.m.. Students will attend one of six sessions. The program concludes in May 2014.