LAURINBURG — Fourth graders in the Scotland County Schools district are continuing a tradition that started out as a way to save lives.
For at least 35 years fourth graders at all elementary schools in the county were given the opportunity to spend three days learning how to swim at the pool on the campus of St. Andrews University.
estimated it has been at least that long since the program began. He is the
“It is the only program like it in the state,” said Jordan Reilly, assistant principal at Carver Middle School and former physical education teacher at Laurel Hill who ran the program for more than five years.
“From my understanding one summer in Scotland County there were three students who drowned. It was a P.E. teacher who was split between Laurel Hill and another school and he started taking them to swim, because he wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.”
After about five years, the program expanded to all the elementary schools. One class goes at a time for three days out of a week, usually, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
“It is just fourth grade. We try to get them as early as possible,” said Reilly.
Even though he is no longer involved directly with the problem, Reilly said when he sees some of his former students they talk about the time at the pool.
“That’s their favorite memory, that one week out of the year. It did impact them. I taught many of them how to ride a bike and swim when I was their P.E. teacher. They definitely take it seriously. Their behavior is typically better.”
The lessons start each year the week after Labor Day. Reilly added the goal is to finish up before spring break, so that the lessons will not interfere with end of grade testing.
“It gives them a realistic look at a pool. They learn how to be safe around them. We have not had a single drowning since the program started,” he added.
Greg Boatwright, physical education teacher at I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School, also spoke highly of the program. His students had their turn at the pool several weeks ago.
“It has been a great deal. A lot of students have never been to a swimming pool,” he said. “It is for beginners in fourth grade, if you can swim already that is great. But is not required.”
Boatwright has seen how the program has grown over the years. He started teaching in Scotland County in 1999. Students were involved in the program but not as many as now. He thinks the program not only helps the students learn swimming and water safety but it also helps with behavior in the classroom.
“I think it helps them. They’re going to try to do well in school, so they can go swimming. They have a reward,” he said.
Boatwright wishes the program could be expanded to include third and fifth graders, especially after seeing the success with the fourth grade. But he understands why the fourth grade was chosen.
“They’re more apt to take on things,” he said.
“It’s a wonderful program. A lot of Scotland County students don’t even have access to a swimming pool. Some are even talking about going back for swimming lessons at St. Andrews University.”
He credits Principal Mary Hemphill and Assistant Principal Amy Sloop for keeping them on schedule.
Both Boatwright and Reilly agree the program would not be as successful without the volunteers. Retirees volunteer their time each week and work with the students in the pool.
“Definitely could not run without them, the volunteer commitment and dedication,” said Reilly. “The program is entirely provided by the school district at no cost to the students. It is a fantastic program and by far the cheapest program that benefits of the entire district.
Boatwright agreed, “to our volunteers, they were a God send, they were wonderful.”
Parents are responsible for providing proper swim attire for their children.
Laurel Hill Elementary School’s fourth grade math and science teacher, Misty Peed watched closely as her students took their turns diving in the pool on Wednesday.
“I am appreciative of the opportunity these students have to learn water safety. It is such an important life-saving skill and the kids always have a great time,” she said.