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YMCA of the Foothills brings ‘portable’ water safety lessons to area families

In summertime, Sunland Elementary School’s playground area is a sizzling hot cement-scape devoid of shade or children at play. But recently, a bright blue jewel of a swimming pool was placed in its center — a shimmering oasis.

The above-ground pool belongs to YMCA of the Foothills and though it seems to invite aquatic antics, its reason for being there is quite serious. Starting this week, the La Cañada-based nonprofit began offering free drowning prevention lessons to Sunland Elementary students and the wider community.

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Organizers say the idea is to bring water-safety basics to different neighborhoods where parents may not be able to easily access Y facilities. A donation from the family of YMCA of the Foothills board member Ken Gorvetzian allowed for the purchase of the portable pool.

Thirty-minute lessons run Monday through Thursday and are specifically aimed at teaching young kids to safely extricate themselves from a body of water, according to Venus Payandeh, the YMCA’s leader of youth development.

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“Essentially, we want to help families in the area keep their kids water safe and teach them how to swim,” Payandeh said of the program. “There are two basic skills we’re trying to teach kids who come to the pool.”

The first method — “jump, push, turn and grab” — teaches kids who jump into the water to push off the bottom, turn around to face a wall and grab the wall to safely exit a pool.

“Swim, float, swim” is a method kids can employ by swimming a short distance, then turning to float on their backs for a brief rest before resuming swimming. The idea is for them to stay afloat until someone helps them or they reach safety.

On Monday afternoon, kids flocked to the pool clad in swim attire and ready to learn. Swimmers were broken into groups based on ability, each with its own coach. While stage 1 kids gleefully practiced kicking and floating with instructor Teagen Higuchi, stage 2 swimmers learned how to blow bubbles underwater with instructor Maryjane Martinez.

Parents gathered under a nearby shade tree to watch. Sylmar resident Monique Mares brought 3-year-old daughter Kaitlyn, the youngest of seven and the only one who hasn’t yet learned to swim. Last year, when her 6-year-old son opened a gate and got close to a pool with Kaitlyn in tow, Mares knew she had to do something.

“I didn’t put the above-ground pool up this year,” Mares said. “Until I know she can swim, I don’t want to risk it.”

Tujunga mom Elvina Moradian brought sons Aiden, 3, and 6-year-old Mason. Although Mason took a swim lesson at the Y last year, he wasn’t comfortable swimming on his own.

“It didn’t really work. He was still afraid of the water,” Moradian said. “But here, with a smaller pool, I feel they’re much more comfortable.”

When the lesson was over, kids were safely led out of the pool and reunited with parents, who wrapped them in fluffy robes and towels. Moradian handed Mason a striped towel.

“Was it fun?” she asked as they traversed the sun-scorched play yard.

“Yeah!” the 6-year-old replied.

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