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All about aquatic safety

Local mom Jenna Porcelli is teaching survival swimming lessons to infants and young children in Newtown

A life-saving effort: Jenna Porcelli recently brought Infant Swimming Resource to the Newtown Athletic Club. ISR is the pioneer of survival swimming lessons for infants and young children. Source: Lower Bucks ISR

When it comes to the safety of her kids, ages 4 and 2, Yardley mom Jenna Porcelli doesn’t mess around.

On a daily basis for six weeks, Porcelli made a 40-minute trek with her son from Bucks County to Fort Washington in order to protect against one of the leading causes of death in children – drowning. This was the closest location offering Infant Swim Resource, or ISR – the pioneer of survival swimming lessons for infants and young children.

“It’s only a 10-minute lesson, so that’s a lot to have to drive 40 minutes and back, but it was probably my crowning achievement as a mom,” Porcelli said. “I felt like seeing him do these skills and learning to save himself as a tiny little 8-month old was incredible. It was so worth it.”

After telling fellow moms about ISR, Porcelli discovered there was a strong interest. However, most were unwilling to venture to Fort Washington. So, for the sake of local families, the digital marketing specialist of Buzzfeed and Scary Mommy decided to switch career gears and bring ISR to Bucks County.

In only eight weeks, Porcelli completed 180 hours of intense training to become a certified ISR instructor. Currently, she teaches out of the Newtown Athletic Club, 120 Pheasant Run, Newtown, offering daily 10-minute lessons for ages 6 months to 6 years.

The mission of ISR, which promotes the slogan “Not One More Child Drowns,” is to teach children how to save themselves in an aquatic emergency, for example, if they accidentally fall into the family pool. Through sensory motor learning and positive reinforcement, a baby learns how to maintain a floating posture, while a toddler learns how to do a short swim and then float.

“It’s all done through touch, essentially. It’s not unlike how we learn to walk or how we learn to ride a bike. We learn those things by experiencing them. No one says to a baby, ‘Put one foot in front of the other foot and do this with your toes,’ and the baby learns to walk,” Porcelli said. “A child could actually teach themselves how to swim if water couldn’t kill them.”

Porcelli stressed that although ISR is unlike traditional lessons, it doesn’t involve “throwing babies in the pool,” which she said many believe to be the case.

“They are very gentle swim lessons,” she said. “Kids do cry in the beginning of lessons, and that’s a concern of parents. They’re working very hard in 10 minutes. They’re not blowing bubbles and singing songs. It’s learning a real skill, but it’s being done in a very gentle way that, again, is focused on their safety and their wellbeing, and the crying really does taper off after a few days. This is meant to instill confidence and make the child feel capable.”

Since bringing ISR to the NAC in September 2019, Porcelli has taught 50 students, with 100 expected in the spring. All lessons are one-on-one and tailored exclusively to each child. Every pupil is evaluated by an RET (Registration Evaluation Team), comprised of pediatric RNs.

“Their medical needs are reviewed by nurses and then those nurses issue me protocols to help keep their lesson experience very safe,” she said. “If a child has asthma or any other condition that would impact their health, I know about those things and can customize their lesson experience accordingly.”

Additionally, Porcelli conducts a short interview with parents before each lesson, asking how the child slept the night before and other factors that could impact their ability to learn.

“It’s a very quick set of questions, but it’s meant to give me a lot of information about the child so that they can have, above all, the safest learning experience possible, and also the one that is best for them,” she said.

As Porcelli spreads the word about her ISR lessons, she’s also working to educate the larger public on water safety. Her biggest battle is promoting the dangers of the popular Puddle Jumpers pool toy, which she described as a “turbo version” of water wings.

“Most people think, ‘Oh, I just put my little 2-year-old in that thing and they can go enjoy the water,’” Porcelli said. “Puddle Jumpers create a really false sense of security. When you put the child in the water in something that holds them up over the water and say, ‘Jump in,’ you’re telling them that the water is safe and fun. But without that device, they cannot swim.”

She explained that Puddle Jumpers train children to be in a vertical “drowning position” in the water, which is the opposite of what ISR instructs.

“They assume that position right away. When they get into water, they go straight up and down, and the head is the heaviest part of their body, so they just sink like a stone,” Porcelli said. “It’s actually making their ability to learn to swim more difficult.”

Ultimately, Porcelli’s goal is to create as many “aquatic problem solvers” as possible in Bucks County.

“That’s what makes this so rewarding after six weeks. It’s building upon those little tiny changes that wind up adding up to a skill,” she said. “That consistency and routine helps to create a permanence of those skills, which would enable them to call upon those skills in an aquatic emergency.”

Enrollment is now open for ISR sessions in February and March. Lessons are typically Monday-Friday or Tuesday-Saturday, every day for 10 minutes a day. To learn more, email j.porcelli@infantswim.com or visit lowerbucksISR.com. Cost is $165 a week, with a one-time registration fee of $105. Scholarships and payment plans are available. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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