LEWISTON — In the wake of two child drownings in Lewiston and Auburn in the past two months, local interest in water safety training and swimming lessons is rising, according to officials at the YWCA of Central Maine.

The YWCA, on East Avenue in Lewiston, has the only public indoor pool in the twin cities following the closure of the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA pool early this year.

The most recent incident – when 13-year-old Rayan Issa drowned during a Lewiston Middle School field trip to Range Pond State Park last week – has put renewed focus on not only swimming skills but also on safety training for adults.

“It seems to just be more awareness, and people looking to be proactive,” said Linda Sherman, the YWCA aquatics director.

In April, Valerio McFarland was swept away when he fell into the Androscoggin River at Bonney Park in Auburn. In attempting to save him, Maxim, his older brother, barely escaped with his life.

Valerio was 5 years old and on a dangerous river, but those close to the Range Pond investigation have said Rayan went underwater while playing football with friends in a roped-off area, and that he might not have known how to swim.

The school department’s law firm is investigating district policies on trips where swimming is allowed, as well as the events that led up to the incident.

Sherman says awareness is growing following the recent deaths. She said on top of regular swim lessons, there has been a surge in organizations looking for aquatic safety training for staff. Local fundraisers are in the works to help more low-income residents and members of the immigrant community gain access to swim lessons, primarily focused on the beginner levels.

Sherman said that with many questions still unanswered in the Range Pond incident, she’s hearing a lot of summer camps and local groups choosing not to go to Range Pond. Others, she said, are coming to the YWCA to have personnel get more training.

“They want their staff certified for when they go to beaches and lakes,” she said. “It looks like they’re really trying to step up their staff presence with the trainings.”

A lifeguard training session – typically three days – is underway now with eight students, and Sherman said another session could be scheduled if needed.

Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster has said the 113 students on the seventh-grade outing at Range Pond were accompanied by 11 chaperones and one lifeguard. While groups can bring additional certified lifeguards, Lewiston didn’t during that trip.

Sherman said the YWCA has more than a dozen certified lifeguards, and that Lewiston and other schools have used those lifeguards for past trips. She said she was surprised to hear they didn’t for the recent Range Pond field trip.

Jane Morrison, interim director of the YWCA of Central Maine, said interest has spiked after the Range Pond incident.

“We do want people to know that we have lifeguards for hire,” she said.”

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