10. Improvise, Adapt & Overcome

A Water Safety reflection/diary entry - 'Improvise, Adapt and, Overcome' really described the week that was. 

As the new year kicks off, and students slowly settle back into their school routine - my mind immediately sets to starting to organise our beach Water Safety program, which generally takes place in Week 6 or 7. Through this program, Year 5 and 6 students are taken down to a local beach where they participate in a variety of aquatic activities, which generally include Snorkelling, Nipper Boards (Paddleboards), Tube Rescues, Beach Games, Resuscitate a Mate, and Beach Walk.

The program is a fantastic opportunity for students to continue to build new relationships with their peers, experience the marine environment in a safe way, learn how to utilise their fundamental movement skills in the aquatic environment, and gain a greater understanding of the risks associated with water. 

In the lead-up to the event, most of my attention is set on ensuring buses, and the venue is booked, that there has been timely communication with parents/guardians, and the staff involved in regard to the day, and that the necessary ratios are met, along with having a thorough Risk Assessment/Safety plan in place.

The above can be a bit stressful, but what isn’t, is the program that we follow once we are down there. The program (activities, group names, and times) stay the same each year, maybe with a slight adjustment. As I have written about before, after events like this, I immediately sit down and write notes for the same event for the following year, which might include slight adaptions to make the day more seamless - based on this, the 2023 timetable was set in 2022. 

Once all the above is organized, it’s generally nice to get to ‘Water Safety week’, and spend the week at the beach with the relevant cohorts, and staff members.

However, this year was a bit different. As I lay in bed on the Sunday night before it kicked off, all I could hear was the normally-soothing sound of rain on the roof.  I lay there knowing full well the impact that the rain was going to have on the beach, and the water, and possibly the program.

As I got up in the morning, the wind was gusty, there were puddles everywhere from the rain, and the sun was nowhere to be seen - but I stayed hopeful. 

When I arrived at the beach, a secluded bay beach known for its shallow sand bar and calm nature, I noticed not only waves that were potentially surf-able, but there was also a local out there trying to catch some waves (and he wasn’t far off - just to paint a picture of the conditions). The hope I had took a bit of a hit. Immediately, adaptions to the program took the forefront of my mind - “Snorkelling out, won’t be able to see a thing. Maybe some novelty beach games instead”

As my colleague arrived and we started setting up, we agreed we’d simply modify the program, and the kids could carry on as planned - they were going to love trying to catch waves on the Nipper Boards. Our final part of the set up was checking the toilet facilities, which to our surprise were locked, and closed - with Police tape covering the door. With this spanner in the works, we obviously had to ensure the psychological safety and welfare of the students that were coming down (very shortly). A few panicked phone calls and conversations later, we found out that the coast was clear. There were alternative toilets that the students could use, and thankfully the locked toilets weren’t going to create any issues or risks, obviously, we just had to stay away. 

Following these spanners, the students arrived, eager to find out what groups they would be in and what activities they would be doing throughout the day. But, another spanner await - one I had anticipated the night before. Due to the rainfall and the state of the water, the Lifeguards that we had helping us shared the EPA rating - which was POOR. It was therefore advised, although they did say it was teacher discretion, that the water wouldn’t be good for students to swim in. Based on this, we again had to scramble to work out what course of action we would take. 

We had two options; get the students back on the bus, and send them back to school and use a booked back-up day later in the week, or create a ‘dry’ program on the spot. After a quick discussion - one we had been anticipating after looking at the conditions - we modified the program once again to keep the students at the beach, and make the most of the opportunities that we had access to. 

The ‘dry’ plan worked a treat, the students weren’t too upset about not getting in the water due to the conditions, and loved the variety of activities that they ended up doing - the 6 groups were squeezed into 4, and they participated in a Beach Walk, CPR, Beach Art and Beach Games. 

As the day was coming to a close, which had been a relatively stressful start, but also a successful day given the circumstances - one more spanner was thrown. In unfortunate circumstances, the lifeguards that we had helping us, had to execute a real rescue as a member of the public required assistance in the water (and let me say here, the lifeguards were incredible, and the individual was okay). While not going into specifics of the event, a water rescue was required, as well as an ambulance, but it was great to see the individual walk to the ambulance, and on follow-up, we know that they were okay. 

As this took place, while concerned for the individual, we also had to protect the students from what had the potential to be an upsetting and possibly traumatizing event for kids. Quickly, we gathered all students at the opposite end of the beach, and had them sitting with their backs to what was going on in the distance - unfortunately we didn’t have the ability to move completely out of sight. We gave them prompts to talk about, and to generate discussion amongst the group. Thankfully they were all respectful and maintained engaged in conversations with their peers. 

While a stressful event, it reiterated the importance of water safety and the importance of the skills that the students had been learning throughout the day. As mentioned earlier, the individual was okay in the end, which was obviously a huge relief to all. Following this, the lifeguard volunteered to debrief with all the students and explain (in student friendly language) what had happened, and how they helped the individual. We felt that this was important in order for students to gain clarity on the situation and for crazy stories to not spread amongst the cohort.

Following this, it was time to pack up, and get the students on the bus and back to school.

For me, and my colleague, it was time to debrief and reflect on the day that had unfolded. This included looking at what worked well, and what we could do better to improve the program, and our responses to what had occurred throughout the day.

As the week went on, the ‘dry’ program was in play for the remainder of the days, as the poor weather, and poor water quality continued. This program will now be typed up and saved in my ‘2024 Water Safety’ folder. Through doing this, when 2024 rolls around, this experience in which we constantly had to improvise, adapt and overcome, will serve as an educational experience and will lead to having a ‘Plan B’ when we head to the beach. 

Not only will this be helpful in the future, but it serves as a great lesson to always have a ‘Plan B’ for organized events, a solid Risk Assessment plan, and to be clear to all students and staff about what your response will be should an emergency eventuate. 

However, this cannot always be planned, so at times when plans go array, we ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’ with on the spot changes.