Kids learn water safety in junior lifeguard program in Wilmette

WILMETTE, Ill. (WLS) -- Kids are learning valuable lessons on staying safe in open water as part of the Wilmette Park District's junior lifeguard program.

"When they see open water and they see waves, they're like, let's go," lifeguard Cathleen Cusick said. "They don't really think about the repercussions like the rip currents and rip tides."

But the program aims to change that mindset among the 12 to 14-year-olds. They will not be certified lifeguards after the two-week class, but they will have a broader knowledge of water safety and how to respond to any dangers that may arise. Those are lessons that will stay with them for a lifetime, organizers say.

"Lifeguards often become first responders or become police officers or firefighters or paramedics or even doctors," said Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

Benjamin was invited to spend a day with the junior lifeguards at Gillson Beach, where he put them through drills on the beach and in the classroom, where he discussed a variety of topics - like what really happens when someone drowns.

"Drowning is very silent, swift," Benjamin said. "There's little to no yelling, little to no waving."

He also shared how peer pressure can contribute to unsafe behavior in and around the water. Benjamin said four out of five drowning victims are male.

"Males are more likely to take risks, they are more susceptible to peer pressure, more likely to overestimate their ability," he said.

The program wraps up at the end of the week.
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