On Oct. 12, fifth graders from Seaside and St. James elementary schools began the first of several pool sessions in the 2011-2012 Junior Lifeguard course.
As some parents watched, children learned numerous ways to save lives without jumping into the water at the Coastal Carolina University pool.
Lynette Rhyne was watching her daughter, Keeley Rhyne.
Before the course ends next year, the kids will be taught the skills and knowledge necessary to make good decisions regarding the water. They will learn many rescue and survival skills in classroom, pool and other settings. Professionals in various fields will teach the students about the aquatic environment, weather, animals in the water, American Red Cross first aid, infant and child CPR, and much more.
The kids will also know about GPS tracking, hurricanes, rip currents, treating stings, what to do if they see a fin in the water, and are advised not to do “crazy things,” such as jumping off piers or swimming alone at night, Guthinger said.
Course founder Duke Brown said that more than 600 students have completed the course over the past 12 years, and 69 are now enrolled.
Brown, a former Seaside teacher who is now teaching at St. James, has served 24 years as beach safety coordinator with the Horry County Police Department’s Beach Patrol unit and has trained lifeguards since 1980.
“This course is basically a Red Cross course with enhanced information. That’s why they end up getting Red Cross certification. Without the Red Cross, we wouldn’t have been able to provide this level of training to the students,” Brown said.
The Junior Lifeguard course led to Brown receiving the 2010 National Drowning Alliance Community Lifesaver Award, and a 2011 award of merit from the National Water Safety Congress.
Five graduates have been recognized by the Coastal S.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross for using skills they learned in the course to save lives, and seven have used those skills to provide care.
There are also incidents such as one student Sarah Flowers talked about before Wednesday’s class. Her little sister once jumped into a pool and she jumped in to save her, but both of them had to be rescued by her older sister, Kaitlin, who had taken the course.
“I jumped in and I about drowned. It was scary, weird, freaky. I don’t want to feel like that again,” Sarah said.
The cooperation of the schools and numerous volunteers, including Horry County and Myrtle Beach’s beach patrol officers, Junior Lifeguard graduates, lifeguards and lifeguard trainers, swimming instructors, parents, and others help keep this program going, Brown said.
“The county and the police department support it 100 percent,” said Cpl. Justin Wright, a supervisor with the Horry County Police Department Beach Patrol. “We volunteer to teach these kids how to save a life. Like any agency, we feel like one drowning death is too many.
“We think it’s a good idea to let the kids get to know us in a friendly aspect as opposed to always in a negative aspect. It helps us out in the streets and creates a rapport in our community,” Wright said.
Josh Kindzia, a St. James High School senior who took the course as a Seaside fifth-grader, also helps teach. In addition to the skills he learned, his participation has given him something positive to put on his college application, allowed him to make good friends and kept him informed on water safety, he said.
Myrtle Beach police investigator Mike Guthinger, Beach Patrol supervisor, began helping teach Brown’s class in 2000. Last year, he started a Junior Lifeguard class at Myrtle Beach Intermediate School, and started his second class Monday with 30 students.
Guthinger said 10 beach patrol officers in his unit help teach the class at various times, in addition to the staff at Pepper Geddings Recreation Center, speakers in various fields such as the Department of Natural Resources and other volunteers.
Since Brown had already been through the process of getting the curriculum approved by the Horry County School District, they do not deviate from it, Guthinger said.
The course is basically the same as the one beach patrol officers learn.
“But I hold my guys to a higher standard,” he said.
Guthinger said the Beach Patrol’s biggest mission, besides saving lives, is to raise beach safety awareness in the community, and the course is one way of doing that.
Another good thing about the course is that it intermixes a lot of cliques in the school and results in kids making friends they otherwise wouldn’t have, he said.