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Four-decade tradition continues: John Sevier Elementary teaches students water safety as part of school curriculum

Nearly 500 first, second and third-graders participated in this year's "swim week" at John Sevier Elementary school.

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — John Sevier Elementary is one of the only schools in Tennessee that teaches swim lessons as part of the physical education curriculum, according to Maryville City Schools. 

It's a tradition that began over 40 years ago. An effort is now underway to expand the program to nearby schools including Alcoa Elementary and Sam Houston.

Second-grader Ruby Harris was one of 460 students participating in "swim week" at John Sevier this year. 

"I think it's amazing," Harris beamed when asked about her school. "All the teachers are really, really nice. I think that John Sevier Elementary School is one of the best schools."

Roger Murphy, one of the swim instructors, is part of the Blount County Special Operations Response Team. 

Murphy teaches John Sevier students how to handle emergencies on the water away from structured pools. "With miles and miles of shoreline here in this county, there are a lot of possibilities for emergencies," he explained.

Murphy said he and his colleagues responded to 47 water-related emergencies in 2022. 

"We don't want to be called," he said. "We've seen a few things that are hard to get out of your head, but the reward is that our guys all go home safely and we accomplish the mission we've been called on to perform."

First, second and third graders participate in "swim week" at John Sevier Elementary, which takes place during the first week of school at the community gym.

"One of these days, we're going to get a report from one of these kids that they've saved somebody's life, and it's because of something we did here," Murphy said.


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