AUGUSTA, Ga. — Young students in east Georgia are learning about water safety at an Augusta pool, and a key goal of the course is to reduce the number of drownings.

Thousands of Richmond County second-graders have participated in the SPLASH program since the Kroc Center opened in 2011, The Augusta Chronicle reported (

Each week, a different elementary school brings students to the Kroc Center pool, where they’re taught the significance of water safety.

“It’s an invaluable week of training,” said Christina Williams, who teaches second-grade language arts at Monte Sano Elementary. “Many of these kids can’t afford swim lessons, so to have this free opportunity can truly be a life-changing experience.”

Many of the students have never swum before, and some haven’t even been around water, said Leslyn Rascoe, a math teacher at Monte Sano.

“To get this type of water exposure is unbelievable. To be honest, my only complaint is that it only lasts one week,” Rascoe said.

During one recent class, aquatics center manager Shawn McNair lifted an orange life preserver for dozens of students to see.

“On the count of three,” he said to 37 second-graders from Monte Sano Elementary. “I want y’all to tell me what this means.”

After the count, the children shouted: “Safety!”

McNair begins the training week by teaching students the significance of water safety at pools. The second session involves backyard pool safety. On Wednesday, kids are taught beach safety, while Thursday’s activities focus on boat safety. On Friday, the week concludes with a “fun day” for students, the Augusta newspaper reported.

Each day of training goes from noon to 2 p.m., and parents give permission for their child to take part.

The SPLASH program is paid for through a grant from the “Y,” said Lezettra Saunders, the coordinator of health and physical education for Richmond County schools. Saunders says the Y provides transportation for second-grade students. Instructors at the Wilson Family Y and Kroc Center each teach the program.

“At the beginning of each week, we have kids who are petrified of the water,” McNair said. “Absolutely petrified. However, by Friday they start to feel safe. Our main goal is to decrease the drowning statistics in Richmond County, and we’re doing everything we can to make that happen.”