Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Great First Step

It's been over one week since I last put anything here on Thinking Out Loud In Sturbridge, and as you can tell from the new title, I had little desire to do so.

Now, it's not because I no longer have an interest in Sturbridge. My head, and body, were elsewhere. As a matter of fact, both our heads and bodies were elsewhere.

We just went North for a week, and left the world behind.

Now, we're back, and I have some catchin' up to do, so let's read the papers.

First of all, I am going to start out pretty strong. Haven't done that in awhile.

On the front page of last weeks Tantasqua Town Common there is an article by Matthew Bernat entitled, "Installation of Kids Don't Float Delayed". The "Kids Don't Float" Program was established in Homer, Alaska in 1996 when the Homer School District and the Coast Guard Auxillary provided 15 life jacket loaner stations around Kachemak Bay. Kachemak Bay, Alaska is a boating area, and life preservers are a must have. What ever the reason was that children did not use them, or have them available in Kachemak Bay is beyond me. It could have been lack of education, funds, or a cavalier attitude. Regardless, the Life Preserver Loaner Boards positioned around the Bay has obviously saved lives, and the State of Alaska joined in supporting the program later that same year.

The program has grown over the years and has spread to other states, and most recently to Sturbridge. The program was brought here by the family of a young boy that drowned in Cedar Lake in the summer of 2007. The program does save lives, and is a fantastic volunteer program. The family has done well to bring the program to us, and at the same time work through their grief.

The article in the paper centered around the best location for the Loaner Board and the life preservers to be placed at the Cedar Lake Recreation Area / Beach. At a meeting there was some discussion as to the best location, and it was felt that the original spot would be covered by trees. It was decided to place the board and life preservers on the life guards chair. "We want the parents to see this sign.", stated the grandmother of the boy that drowned.

I agree, but the beach is the wrong place.

Life preservers are designed to be worn while boating, not swimming. There are other devices for swimming, and it is the parents duty to supply them. There are 'swimmies" for the arms of little ones to aid in their buoyancy while learning to swim, a other devices that are designed to aid the non-swimmer while they learn. Life preservers aren't one of these devices. Of course a life preserver will keep one afloat, and if a child is in the water at the beach, it will work if the water is deep enough to float the child, but the purpose of such a device is not to aid in recreational swimming.

It will not work if the water is too shallow to allow the child to float with the life preserver. Neither will "swimmies". They will not work if a toddler falls face first into 6 inches of water near the shore. Keep this in mind and avoid that false sense of security many of us get when we rely on safety devices to be the be-all, end-all.

So, what do to about kids at the beach? It's simple. If one takes a child to the beach, and their swimming skills are poor or non-existent, then one does not leave their side. Not for a minute. If they want to play in the water at the shoreline, then the parent accompanies them, and stays there till the child is done.

They are never to leave the side of the child.

The other thing to make sure of is that a life guard is on duty. Not just in the area teaching swimming lessons, or on break, or talking to friends, but actually on duty, eyes to the water. And, there has to be the proper ratio of guards to swimmers as well.

The life guard does not take the place of a the parent. The life guard is not a nanny. They are what their name states. They are their solely for the purpose of guarding life. That's it.

The parent of a child remains the parent. If the parent wants to bring their child to the beach, and the child doesn't swim a lick, then the parent either doesn't go till they learn by taking lessons, or brings a life jacket, or "swimmies", and understands that they cannot leave the child's side at all.

I have walked this walk, and I know that accidents do occur. That is why they are called accidents, but I also know that education, and accountability can reduce the number of accidents tremendously.

The "Kids Don't Float" program will be a great addition to our town for many reasons. One of them is that it will initiate conversation, and education about water front safety, and in a town full of lakes and ponds, it is much needed, and long overdue.

Even though I had lost a little sister in a drowning years ago, when I became a adult I had a pool built in my yard. I was not going to let a tragedy in my life affect my families life. There would be conditions, though. The pool would be sealed from the house, and street, and no child would be invited without their parent, and if that child was not a swimmer they would need to wear a flotation device regardless of what the parent felt, or their age. Lost some friends with that rule, but never a kid.

Bottom line is that whatever we can do to heighten the awareness that kids don't float, and to insist on parental accountability for teaching their children to swim , and protecting them near the water will be more than worth it

The above photograph is from Alaska's "Kids Don't Float" program.

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