Coast Guard makes students partners

by Petty Officer Jay Cadorette

SCUTUATE, Mass (D1 Public Affairs) – Five uniformed Coast Guard members rushed through the hallways of Wampatuck Elementary School in Scituate, Mass., June 13, 2008. A 25-foot Coast Guard patrol boat was positioned in the school parking lot.

“The Coast Guard is here!” shouted a group of students who were on their way to morning class.

The five Coast Guard members were not on a search and rescue mission, nor were they on scene to chase after smugglers. Their mission was to make a series of presentations to more than 200 elementary school students ranging from kindergarten through fourth grade on water safety and environmental awareness as part of Coast Guard Operation Paddlesmart and the Sea Partners Campaign.

Operation Paddle Smart, though it is an ongoing program, officially runs from May 1 to June 30. The operation is a multi-partnered endeavor developed by the First Coast Guard District, Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons to promote the life-saving benefit of wearing a life jacket, to highlight the immediate danger of sudden cold water immersion, to encourage boater and paddler education, and to stress the importance of being a responsible and prudent mariner.

The Sea Partners Campaign is an environmental education and outreach program focused on communities at large to develop community awareness of maritime pollution issues and to improve compliance with marine environmental protection laws and regulations.

At the conclusion of the presentation, students were deemed honorary sea partners and received official certification as Coast Guard Paddlesmart spokespersons. The certification grants each student the official credentials to speak about the importance of wearing lifejackets.

“This is a coastal community,” said Principal Deborah Donovan. “Our students have more exposure to the risks of living by the sea. This is part of life in Scituate.”

The goal of these presentations is early intervention and influencing students to begin smart water safety habits while they are young.

“This group is the key to the future,” said Cmdr. Tom Miller, Coast Guard First Disctrict deputy chief of prevention. “They can influence their parents, aunts, and uncles. This is a perfect theme for these coastal communities. The vision is to do this up and down the coast of New England.”

The Coast Guard dedicates much time and energy to community outreach and education. Lt. j.g. Heidi Miller, the First District marine and environmental outreach coordinator, spends her time educating both adults and children about the marine environment.

“I think this is an important cause,” she said. “I enjoy teaching it to the young children. They really see the importance and they seem to care more.”

The children proudly displayed their certifications. Cmdr. Miller urged them to share what they had learned with their parents and family.

“The water is cold year round in New England,” he said. “Life jacket wearing is the single most important key to water safety.”

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