The SF Network

Making Waves: The Junior Lifeguard Revolution at Pelican Bay Aquatic Center

Time is not on our side when it comes to ensuring the water safety of our children. Oklahoma ranked second in the U.S. for unintentional drowning death rate among children up to age 17 (2.2 per 100,000 population) in 2020.  In Edmond, Pelican Bay Aquatic Center has made quite a splash with its innovative Junior Lifeguard Program in hopes of sinking this shocking statistic. Introduced in the summer of 2023 under the inventive leadership of General Manager Marina Wells, the program swiftly garnered the praise and endorsement of participants, parents, existing staff, and the community.

With a capable staff and a thoughtfully designed schedule, the center was able to test the waters with a two-week trial run of the Jr. Lifeguard Program. Catering to children ages 10 to 15, the program includes half-day morning sessions that cover essential lifesaving skills. The comprehensive training includes CPR, water entry, backboarding, and rescue situations. Wells firmly believes in the potential of young participants to master the same skills as their older counterparts—a belief the program has confirmed.

“They get to participate, and it also makes my guards more disciplined,” shares Wells. “I tell them to present themselves at a certain level because these kids are looking up to you. You have to set the right example. So it really tightens them up, but they feel great to be leading and setting examples for the kids, and it’s amazing to watch.”

The Jr. Lifeguard Program has also proven to be a powerful magnet for new enrollments. Parents who witnessed their children’s engagement and growth during the program are increasingly eager to sign up their children. Wells sees the program as an ideal progression for children who have completed their swim lessons and are seeking fresh challenges.

“The trial was very successful based on our limited registration. The program goes on during swim lessons, just in a different part of the pool. So swim lesson parents see what’s going on and become interested in getting their kids to participate,” recalls Wells. “So I added more sessions.”

The program also has another benefit—it serves as an effective feeder system for future lifeguards. Wells has the vision to approach promising candidates from the previous summer’s program with employment opportunities as they turn 16. This strategy allows her to cultivate potential employees and smoothly transition them from the junior program to full lifeguard certification.

“It’s a great recruitment tool as well because we go all the way up to 15 for the camp. Once you complete it, I waive the certification fee if you are interested in getting certified. I will also trigger your online training so that you can, by the end of summer, be a certified lifeguard,” Wells explains. “You can get certified at 15, which means next summer, that 15-year-old can work at Pelican Bay. I’ve also had some that are really interested in teaching swim lessons, so we’ve been integrating that into our junior guard camp.”

Following the success of its inaugural year, the Junior Lifeguard Program has been extended to a four-week schedule, aligning with staff training sessions for better management and growth. While no one has been officially hired from the program yet, Wells has plans to extend offers to eligible candidates who meet the age requirement.

“They really enjoy it. I haven’t had a single one sit on the side and refuse to participate. We mix up partners so the kids can get to know one another. Lifeguards will happily jump in to help out when they’re done with their lessons. It’s just such a wholesome program, and I would encourage any venue to offer it,” reflects Wells. “I really enjoyed teaching it, so I’m excited to do it again.”

The Junior Lifeguard Program at Pelican Bay Aquatic Center is more than just a success story. It is a testament to Marina Wells’ vision and commitment to skills-building, community engagement, and proactive recruitment. It is also a stepping stone for budding lifeguards and an essential addition to the center’s community services.

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