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Miami takes aim at drowning stats with county swim program

Miami takes aim at drowning stats with county swim program
Miami takes aim at drowning stats with county swim program 02:24

MIAMI – Miami-Dade County is ready to dive into a new effort to keep kids safe in and around the water.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida leads the nation in drownings. County leaders officially launched an initiative on Tuesday to help families avoid tragedy through a free swim program for young children.

At Marva Y. Bannerman Park Pool, CBS News Miami saw children ages 4- and 5-years-old learning to swim.

"She's taking full advantage of swimming," shared a parent of young swimmer Barbara Sylverain.

Barbara's mom smiled from the pool's edge, watching her 5-year-old daughter swim with pride.o  

"Joy. It's a feeling like you didn't have the opportunity growing up," said Sylverain.

Actually, Sylverain said she has yet to learn to swim. But through the county's new, free program, her daughter will.

"If she didn't know how to swim, I'd have to worry," emphasized Sylverain.

According to a study in the American Journal of Pediatrics, drownings are the number one cause of death for children in Miami-Dade County, ages 1 through 9. Studies also show participation in a formal swim lesson can reduce that risk by 88 percent.

"A person can drown in seconds," said Miami-Dade County Chairman Oliver Gilbert.

That's why Miami-Dade County and the Children's Trust created the new program, Zero Drownings Miami-Dade. 

In the fall, a free swim safety program for children ages 4 to 5 will launch. Eligible kids must be enrolled in the county's Head Start program, the Children's Trust-funded Thrive by 5 private childcare centers in high-poverty neighborhoods, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Lessons, county leaders hope, save lives.

School board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingal says the drownings of twin brothers Alex and Andrew Paul inspired the new program. 

"Twin brothers whose bright spirits were taken," said Bendross-Mindingall.  

It happened last year in April when witnesses told us they were playing with friends by the lake at Arthur Woodard Park.

"Drowned trying to save each other," added Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cave. "Neither of them knew how to swim. That was the button that was pushed for me."

The plan now, to teach nearly 20,000 eligible children annually in Miami-Dade County a life-saving skill in the years to come.

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