‘Mobile pool’ to enable free swimming lessons for public primary schools

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Swim Free announcement at the Flowers Sea Swim 30th anniversary gala dinner

Younger students in public primary schools will be given free swimming lessons as part of their physical education curriculum, thanks to a public-private partnership and a mobile swimming pool.

During Thursday’s sitting of the Cayman Islands Parliament, Minister of Education Juliana O’Connor-Connolly described the Swim Free programme, enabled by the Flowers, Foster and Seymour families.

“Swim Free is a curriculum-based programme that mandates lifesaving water skills for all children in Receptionn through Year 2 in the Cayman Islands government education system,” O’Connor-Connolly said.

Stating that drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children under the age of 5, she said organised swim lessons reduce the likelihood of child drowning by 80%.

“It is most unfortunate that our government primary schools are unable to offer comprehensive swimming instruction as part of our Reception to Year 2 curriculum because of logistics and limited facilities, especially in our outer districts,” she said.

The Swim Free programme is a partnership between government and the YMCA of the Cayman Islands, backed by the 3 families and other private sponsors.

The mobile swim pool, or ‘independent swimming apparatus’, will be housed within a 40-foot shipping container and transported by trailer to each government school campus for one month at a time.

Model of the Swim Free pool.

The pool will be built in the United States and have a retractable cover to prevent unauthorised access. The pool will have a maximum depth of 4 feet. Construction of the pool will take approximately 6 months from the time a deposit is provided, she said.

During the month the pool is at a school, a qualified Learn 2 Swim instructor will provide 8 to 9 lessons for every class from Reception through Year 2.

“The goal will be to teach our children to swim to 10 feet because as indicated earlier most drownings happen within 10 feet from the edge of the pool, canal, dock or capsized vessel,” O’Connor-Connolly said.

Private donations will pay for the pool and operation of the programme for a year.

She said that beginning in 2024, the ‘non-staff recurring cost’ to government is estimated to be $30,000 per year.

O’Connor-Connolly said, “That is a small price to pay for the lives of our children.”

Other costs yet to be established include maintenance, resources and shipping the pool to/from Cayman Brac.

“The coaching salary cost will remain with Swim Free subject to future negotiations with government,” she said.

“This is an absolutely fantastic programme that will help to build resiliency and build confidence in our young people, and I am sure that in time it can be extended also to teach adults who are also quite apprehensive of water, especially when they can’t swim or swim properly,” O’Connor-Connolly said.


Update: The following is a press release from the Flowers family and YMCA:

Flowers and YMCA announce Swim Free

A new programme to give every child in the Cayman Islands the chance to learn to swim

The Flowers family and YMCA have announced a partnership to introduce a new swim programme for children called “Swim Free”. Swim Free will use a portable pool to bring swim lessons to communities across the Cayman Islands, teaching children aged 4-7 how to swim and how to stay safe around water.

Frank Flowers Jr announced the new programme at the Flowers Sea Swim gala dinner on Thursday evening where 250 people had gathered to celebrate the Sea Swim’s 30th anniversary.

“On islands founded upon the seas, we believe swimming is a fundamental right and speaks to the very heart of Caymanian culture. Our mission is to give every child in the Cayman Islands the chance to learn how to swim,” said Flowers. “Water safety is essential when you live on islands where the sea is never more than a few miles away. The benefit of a portable pool is we can reach children who might otherwise not have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is comfortable and familiar for them.  Most drownings happen within 10 feet of safety so being able to swim a short distance is enough to save young lives.”

The Swim Free programme has been endorsed by the Cayman Islands Government.  Speaking in Parliament on Thursday 9 June, Minister of Education the Hon. Julianna O’Connor-Connolly said Swim Free was an extremely important programme that can help save the lives of children.

“Swim Free is a curriculum-based programme that mandates life-saving water skills for all children in Reception through year 2 in the Cayman Islands government education system,” she said. “It addresses the lack of access to swimming facilities for students in our government primary schools.”

The portable pool is made from a shipping container that can be towed on a trailer or shipped inter-island, opening up multiple new locations for swim lessons.  A model of the pool, which is 40 feet in length and self-contained with custom decals, safety features and state of the art filtration systems, was revealed at the gala by surprise guest Zoe Saldaña alongside sponsors The Flowers family, Don Seymour of DMS, Taylor Foster of the Foster’s Group, YMCA Chairman Garth Arch, K-Swim Curriculum founder/former Cayman Islands national coach Dave Kelsheimer and the Hon. Minister for Sports, Mr. Bernie Bush on behalf of the government.

“YMCA are natural partners for this programme as they bring local and international credibility in teaching children how to swim,” said Flowers. “We see Swim Free as a model programme that starts in the Cayman Islands but can eventually be franchised to underserved communities all over the world. We look forward to collaborating with other community partners as we finalise programme details for launch.”

Known as the world’s swim coach, YMCA currently runs swim and water safety courses for children and adults as one of several community programmes that include after school care in Government schools, summer camps and a partnership with the Cayman Islands Little League.

YMCA Chairperson Garth Arch said, “Swim Free is an opportunity to expand our swim programme and give even more children the skills and confidence they need to be safe near water. We are excited to partner with the Flowers family who have supported swimming in the Cayman Islands for three decades.”

Further details about the Swim Free programme launch will be shared in the coming months.

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