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Professor’s water safety project educates teachers, students in Mexico

Nov 21, 2023

An expert in drowning prevention and water safety from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington is analyzing the data from a sharable water safety curriculum he implemented for elementary students in Mexico so it can be refined to be taught more broadly.

Bill Ramos, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Wellness Design, used a grant from IU Global and collaborated with the IU Mexico Gateway to train educators so they can teach the curriculum to their students in Grades 4 to 6, and eventually train other teachers. The goal is for water safety to be adopted into the national curriculum and shared throughout Latin America.

Molly Fisher, IU Mexico Gateway director, and Bill Ramos, associate professor in the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomingt... Molly Fisher, IU Mexico Gateway director, and Bill Ramos, associate professor in the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, look at student displays that illustrate water safety topics. Photo courtesy of Jack Waite“Drowning is globally considered an epidemic, and it’s on the World Health Organization’s list of top health issues to address,” Ramos said.

IU Global offers multiple grants that support faculty activities overseas. Ramos said he received a $2,900 matching grant that was invaluable in kickstarting his project.

The school-based water safety pilot program is designed to provide a set of knowledge and skills and make children and their caregivers more aware of how to be safe in and around water. One part of the curriculum tasks the students to work with their parents to identify and map water hazards around their home and region.

“It’s about identifying places that could be potentially dangerous,” Ramos said. “It’s about making good decisions, about when to get in and when not to get in the water.”

The curriculum is geared for students in Grades 4 through 6, Ramos said, because they’re finally at an age cognitively where they can absorb the information and use it effectively. Also, drowning is mostly like to occur between ages 1 to 4, and then in the early teens.

“By hitting this age group, they now are set up with critical information as they head into the next most-dangerous category,” Ramos said.

The curriculum doesn’t teach children how to swim, though. Ramos said that’s not possible in many countries because the expertise and infrastructure aren’t readily available.

He previously led water safety instruction projects in Vietnam and several countries throughout Africa. The IU Mexico Gateway serves Latin America and the Caribbean, and discussions Ramos had with IU Mexico Gateway Director Molly Fisher helped him realize the opportunities for testing and implementing a curriculum there.

Fisher said local residents identified water safety as a need, and Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education does not have a water safety and drowning prevention curriculum.

Molly Fisher and Bill Ramos with some of the teachers who were trained to teach the water safety curriculum. Photo courtesy of ... Molly Fisher and Bill Ramos with some of the teachers who were trained to teach the water safety curriculum. Photo courtesy of Jack WaiteTen teachers from two schools in Lo de Marcos and San Pancho, in the state of Nayarit, received training and in turn taught the water safety curriculum to about 300 students.

“I know this community because I have a home there and have lived and worked in this area for about 10 years prior to my job with the gateway,” Fisher said. “From parents to teachers to community leaders and school principals, this program was received really well.”

The teachers received training earlier this year from two people who had been trained by Ramos:

  • Edgar Moreno, general director of Salve de la Bahía, chief of training for civil protection and firefighters of Bahía de Banderas.
  • María Lucero Guillén Puón, a Master of International Affairs candidate at the IU Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Training teachers in this way was new for the curriculum, Ramos said, and makes it scalable. Previously, a Ramos-led team would go into classrooms to teach students.

Once the teachers were trained, they had four months to teach the curriculum’s six units to the students:

  • Introduction: Water in our lives.
  • Water Safety: The basics.
  • Water Safety: Estuaries, ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans.
  • Water Safety: Local, hotel, and home pools.
  • Water Safety: Watercraft.
  • Water Safety: Self-rescue and helping someone in trouble.

Instruction even accounted for safety from crocodiles, which are present in estuaries.

Teachers said the students and their families are in constant contact with water, being from a coastal community, and that the students responded well to it.

“In the classes where the course topics were taught, the students were always very motivated and had very accurate participation that enriched the information presented to them, giving examples of situations that had arisen in the community or their homes,” teacher Dalia Paola Rojas Torres said.

Learning how to throw a life ring was part of the water safety curriculum. Photo courtesy of Jack Waite Learning how to throw a life ring was part of the water safety curriculum. Photo courtesy of Jack WaiteThe teachers were given the freedom to decide how they wanted to culminate the instruction. They did an all-day water safety event with the elementary school where the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders set up booths and tables around the topics, and then the younger students were brought in and learned from the older students.

“At the end of the course, it was possible to identify that the students took ownership of the topics covered and, without a doubt, they will be able to reinforce them in their daily lives,” said Daniela Pacheco Santana, another teacher who was trained.

The research aspect of the project involved testing the students on their knowledge and attitudes around water before the first unit was taught and after the culmination event. Ramos said his team is analyzing the data to learn what worked and what might need to be adjusted. The next step would be to take the program to a larger scope and make it more scalable, he added.

The ultimate goal is to work within the Mexican government and the Secretariat of Public Education to make water safety part of the standard curriculum for students, Ramos said.

“We want people to understand the water and be safe so they don’t drown, and so they can engage with it safely because it’s an amazing resource,” Ramos said. “It’s so available in many places. Many people can’t avoid using it. It’s just a way of life: it’s transportation, it’s a food source.”

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IU Newsroom

Kirk Johannesen

Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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