In June, rangers from the Walla Walla District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took part in Prospect Point Elementary School's Annual Field Day. This year was Prospect Point's ninth year holding the event, which has come to include snow cones and popcorn, tug of war and relay races, as well as a slip and slide for keeping cool.
"This is something the kids look forward to every year," Prospect Point Principal Dana Chandler said.
For the past two years, the field day has also included Corps of Engineers STEM and Water Safety booths. The Corps of Engineers' STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) booth featured a giant block tower and other activities designed to spark the students' interest in STEM fields such as engineering.
However, the field day is quickly becoming both a day to celebrate the end of the school year and a chance to instill good water safety habits in the students before they head off for the summer.
This year, Park Tech Sandy Hattan and Natural Resource Specialist Christopher Alford, both employees of the Walla Walla District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, attended the event to give safety talks at the Water Safety booth. Included with the talks were demonstrations that taught the kids how to make sure their lifejackets fit properly. The rangers showed the kids how to check that the buckles clasped securely and to check that, when someone pulled up on the shoulder straps, the front of the life jacket didn't lift to cover their chin, which would indicate that, in the water, the life jacket would be in danger of choking them or slipping off. There were also activities that had students practicing their aim while throwing a life preserver.
"We are also teaching 'Reach, Throw, Row, Don't Go,' which is a little rhyme that we use … to help elementary school children properly rescue people when they are in the water" Hattan said.
The purpose of the rhyme is to teach kids that they should never go into the water to save someone that is drowning. Instead, they should "reach" something out to the person, like a stick or a pool noodle, "throw" a flotation device towards the person or "row" their boat out to them.
The Prospect Point School Field Day is just one of many events held every year that allows the Corps of Engineers to communicate their water safety message. The Walla Walla District puts on many water safety presentations, not just in Walla Walla but also at schools, libraries and fairs in places like Prescott, Dayton and the Tri-Cities. They also release promotional materials, including coloring books and short cartoons featuring Bobber the Water Safety Dog, a popular mascot for the National Water Safety Program.
"The unique thing about the Corps of Engineers is that it is the number one water-based recreation provider in the nation. So, we spend a lot of time on our water safety campaign. It's a huge responsibility," Natural Resource Specialist Michael Swenson said.
"It's hard to talk about, since this is about people drowning, and we keep it fun for the kids, but it is a serious topic," Alford said.
The games and catchy rhymes help keep the topic lighthearted, and help the ideas stick in the minds of elementary school students, but the Corps' safety message isn't just for kids. Young men, ages 18 to 35 are the most likely to not exercise proper water safety measures. In an effort to better reach this demographic, the Corps has implemented the slogan "Life Jackets Worn … Nobody Mourns." This more serious approach to water safety allows the message to resonate better with adults.
However, it is still important to start instilling good habits at an early age. The Prospect Point field day is put on with the hopes that students will remember the water safety lessons and use them for years to come.
"The goal is to inform and educate in a way that sticks. Because we'll see that kids are reminding their parents to wear life jackets when they're out on a boat. So, they're becoming advocates as well," Swenson said.
For more water safety tips, educational resources and information about the water safety program, visit the National Water Safety Program webpage at www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Recreation/National-Water-Safety_Program/.