The end of the school year is always awash with excitement, but particularly so for the fourth graders at Sanford-Fritch Elementary in Texas. Each spring, 40-plus students spend the day outdoors at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area learning about safety.
“It’s been a tradition for more than twenty years,” said Lake Meredith chief ranger Paul Jones of the collaborative event hosted by National Park Service, National Weather Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Apollo Air Ambulance.
On April 29, 2022, students rotated through five different activity stations, learning about water safety, weather safety, boating safety, outdoor safety, and first aid. They hopped in helicopters, on boats, and in kayaks, and interacted with weather and safety equipment.
The kayaking event is often the highlight of the day, said Jones. “What fourth grader doesn’t love getting wet?” Students paired up in tandem inflatable kayaks to learn the basic paddling strokes from NPS rangers. They also learned the proper fit of the personal flotation device (PFD) each would carry home.
The Type III lifejackets provided to each student were funded by the Western National Parks Association, through generous donor contributions and from sales within National Park Stores.
“We want to drive home, at the end of the day, that wearing a PFD when they are in and around the water is vital,” said Jones. “Fourth graders are at a prime age to learn water safety aspects, and as they get older and go out boating with their parents, we hope they will let the adults in their lives know that they, too, should be wearing a PFD.”
The children also learned boating safety from Texas Parks and Wildlife wardens, who allowed students to run the sirens and lights of a patrol boat. Wardens discussed basic vessel terminology and the safety equipment onboard as required by state regulations and the US Coast Guard.
“It’s hard to say what part of the day will be most popular each year,” said Jones, indicating that the first-aid training is also often a draw to students who have the opportunity to crawl in and out of an air-ambulance helicopter. He notes that it’s not all fun and games, though. “Paramedics teach the kids about pressure to stop bleeding, and they also practice bandaging.”
Equally important were the stations manned by the National Weather Service. Students interacted with a wind-monitoring system and learned about cloud-to-ground lightning. “We want to keep them aware that when clouds start rolling in—if they are in or near the water and if they can hear thunder—they need to get off the water.”
Given Lake Meredith’s status as the largest body of water in the Texas Panhandle, it’s a popular destination and one that many of the children will likely visit. “It’s important for them to understand safety,” said Jones. “As rangers—or cops—we’re most known for putting the bad guys in jail. We don’t often get to give back to the community, but this is one way we can.”
Only with donor support can the WNPA play its role in supporting community events within national parks. We were pleased to provide 46 personal flotation devices at this small lake park that is making a big impact on community safety.
By: Melissa Crytzer Fry