School is out and kids around Hillsborough County are making the community pool their summer home.
"The first thing they ask every morning is, 'When can we go swimming?'" said Jessica Nelson, who takes 7-year-old Piper and 4-year-old Matthew to the Brentwood Hills Swim & Tennis Club in Valrico.
She sees swimming as a fun activity that provides exercise and escape from the heat. But mindful of reports about child drownings, there has always been an element of stress for her, as well.
Now, Nelson feels a little more secure than in summers past.
On Friday, her children wrapped up their final day of free swim lessons at the Brentwood pool through the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.
"I'm more confident and so are they," Nelson said.
The summer program, now in its second year, travels to community pools throughout Hillsborough to provide free swim and water safety lessons.
While water is never too far away any home in Hillsborough, a place for children to learn proper swim and water safety lessons might be.
"We are removing barriers that have kept some children from receiving this life saving skill," said Chuck Burgess, executive director of Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center and a program partner.
"This initiative allows us to bring the lessons right into the children's neighborhood pool. These are the same pools that these area children are most vulnerable to accidental drowning."
There are more unintentional drownings among children ages 1-4 in Florida than in any other state in the continental U.S, according to the county children's board. Hillsborough County, with Florida's fourth-largest population, regularly ranks in the top three in the state for swimming fatalities.
Formal swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning by as much as 88 percent, according to the children's board.
Children 3 to 14 can participate in the mobile course Monday to Friday.
Each class is 45 minutes.
The older kids learn strokes while the youngest concentrate on basics like floating, but the goal for all remains the same — making it to the pool wall if they're in danger.
Ten area pools enrolled in the mobile program this summer.
Partners in the venture also include the Metropolitan YMCA, St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, the city of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department, and the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Foundation.
In the future, they hope to add more pools and hold the classes year round.
The Children's Board of Hillsborough County, with a budget supported by property tax revenues, pays the full cost of the program — $237,889.
Along with the lessons for their children, parents can receive a free CPR course plus door alarms and safety locks to prevent their kids from sneaking out of the house to the local pool.
The ten community pools where lessons are offered are Bayou Pass, Brentwood Hills, Legend Oaks, Lake Kathy Apartments, Ayersworth Glenn Estates, Claymore Crossings, Lake Shore Apartments, Riverbend, Valley View Townhomes, Wexford Apartments.
Those interested in bringing the program to their community can email [email protected]
It's not just the community pool that poses a danger, said Kelley Parris, executive director of the children's board. Children can drown anywhere there is water, from the Gulf of Mexico to the bathtub.
"It is such a silent killer," Paris said. "Once they are under, they are under."
While the free lessons cannot replace parental vigilance, they can alleviate some of the fear, Parris said.
That's the case for Rachel Tisdale, whose daughters Caroline, 4, and Callie, 7, were among the 17 children participating in the mobile lessons at the Brentwood Hills club.
"I wish I could keep an eye on both kids every second of the day," Tisdale. "Now I am at least confident my kids can make it to the side of the pool."
Contact Paul Guzzo at (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.