What We Can Learn From A Drowning Student

During my research on drowning and the science behind it, I learned that students are a powerful asset—their experience and willingness to speak out, be real, and challenge authority is invaluable.

A friend came to my rescue when I was writing my freshman composition class paper by telling me about an experience she had. She had been drowning her freshman year at a community college and the student in her class, a male freshman, came to give her a backpack because it was cold out.

The problem with this story is that while the female teen was an asset in the classroom, the male student was not. He had an anxiety disorder and an obsession with becoming a fireman.

Despite the fact that the student in her class was her personal hero, this student was a liability at school. The students in that class were all around him and wanted him to succeed which was an obstacle. It made me think about how many student behaviors are a liability for a certain kind of student, and what we can do to help those students.

What we know is that drowning students will not respond to peer pressure and do not have self control. If faced with a decision, they will turn their back on safety without thinking.

As the female student in my class I was a positive influence for him, but that was not so for all of my students. If we want to save drowners, we must address their fears and fears about telling anyone about their experience. We must stop punishing those who come forward by preventing them from participating in extracurricular activities, and we must work to change our culture of bullying and isolation.

If our student drowners are able to drown and have a good memory after experiencing the same feelings and thoughts, it’s time for us to talk to them and support what they’ve said and done. We need to take their thoughts and actions seriously. We need to listen and encourage them to take some form of action to reduce their risk of drowning in the future.

The students who I wanted to avoid were not doing anything wrong and they wanted to swim. They needed someone to encourage them to do something about their fears, fears they were developing because of their anxiety, and fears they were not able to control. Their fears were real and they needed our help.

When faced with a choice and choosing to drown in front of their peers can be as scary, as difficult, as dangerous as choosing to walk away in the first place.

Please help us share that story with our student swimmer as they attempt their first swim attempt at a national or international level. I want to encourage my students to find a role model (and I have several to choose from), show them that they are valuable, and help them do something about what’s going on in their head.

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