Hillsborough Head Start program provides life-saving swim lessons for free

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – For many parts of the country, Labor Day marks the end of summer and beginning of fall. In Florida, summer weather continues for at least another month, so we can skip the jackets and keep the bathing suits out.

Unfortunately, with a nearly year-round swimming season, Florida ranks higher than any other state for accidental drownings of kids under five years old.  That’s according to the Florida Department of Health. A new program in Hillsborough County aims to reach kids early and teach them life-saving swim lessons.

County Commission Ken Hagan began the Swimmer Safety Awareness pilot program in the Head Start classrooms. “We wanted to target those that were at the greatest risk,” said Hagan. This pilot program provided nearly 1,000 Head Start students with eight 30-minute sessions in the pool and classroom time to learn swimming techniques.

One of those students was Christian Jones-Van Pelt who was three years old at the time. “He’s new to the water, and like a lot of kids, he panics sometimes,” said Rich Van Pelt, Christian’s dad. After the Head Start swimming program, Christian and his dad were both more confident.

“Now he doesn’t have to wear his arm floaties,” said the older Van Pelt. Christian responded quickly, “No.”

This fall, the program will expand to include the Head Start students in the school system. Commissioner Hagan expects this session to reach 1,500 kids and it will not cost the parents anything.

“The county is responsible for the instruction. The school district is covering the transportation cost and we even had Bob Henriquez contribute swimming suits and goggles to the kids,” said Hagan.

Officials with Head Start know that the addition of the program will help families across the county.

“So many of our parents can’t afford swim lessons for their children, and during the summer our children are always around the pool,” said Patrice Woods with Hillsborough County Head Start.


WFLA.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s