By Ellen Zoe Golden Photo by Christi Bettinsoli
Students of La Paz, Educarte and Costa Rica International Academy between the ages of 6 and 13 have been undergoing lifesaving instruction under the expert guidance of Samantha Leigh McElvaney, a former Ocean City, Maryland lifeguard. The Guardavidas Junior de Guanacaste organization promotes a mission “to educate the youth of our beach community to be advocates for ocean safety and leaders in keeping our beaches safe.”
“Our program works with students that can effectively swim in the ocean. This means they can tread water, float on their backs, and swim 25 meters,” explained McElvaney, a La Paz math teacher. “Each level is designed to empower the students with many characteristics that are necessary for a first responder and ambassador to our rural, tourist town.”
Level 1 classes teach an understanding of lifeguard equipment, working as a team and effectively executing a chain of command in a simulated emergency situation, understanding and demonstrating the execution of an Emergency Action Plan, the stages of drowning, how to recognize a beach patron in trouble, the dangers of sand holes and how to rescue a victim from a collapse, first aid, how to prevent a rescue by educating a beach patron, how to make a rescue for a swimmer in distress, safe water entries and exits, responsibilities of a Junior Guard and a certified Guard,” she added.
The program, which invites children up to 17 years, hopes to receive official recognition from Capitan Luis Hidalgo of the Costa Rica Lifeguard Association and the International Lifesaving Federation so that at 17, having met all the requirements of this Junior Lifeguard program, these kids will become certified as Costa Rican Guardavidas.
Sessions take place in Playa Tamarindo Saturdays 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., Playa Grande Saturdays 2:00-4:00 p.m. and Playa Danta Sundays at 8:00-10:00 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
Last month, McElvaney took advantage of some schools’ Spring Break to present the Level 1 curriculum in 4, 5-hour days in Avellanas.
“She’s building it slowly and carefully, training as many kids as she can,” said Christi Bettinsoli, owner of Lola’s at Avellanas. “Mind you she is a full time teacher at La Paz and was/is doing this all weekend on her ‘free’ time. She is very dedicated, enthusiastic and terrific with the kids. I asked if Lola’s could host a week here and tried to sponsor some local kids, and we provided snacks, drinks and lunch. We also had our private pool and patio to get out of the wind, sun and sand for a bit. Our yoga instructor Catherine Paulson donated an amazing restorative yoga class. The Beach Box provided lunch one day. We really wanted this to benefit the entire Avellanas community, bringing awareness, cooperation and safety to the water and waves. Let’s teach our children early, and it will stay with them always!”
McElvaney brings to the courses many years in water rescue. She was a lifeguard beginning at age 15, and in 2008 became an Ocean City, Maryland Surf Rescue Technician for 3 years at which time she became an Assistant Crew Chief overseeing two different crews of rescue workers. After moving to Costa Rica, she obtained her Costa Rican certification.
“I am trying to bring the community together through a youth extracurricular program that empowers the importance of knowledge and preventative measures to keep our beaches safe,” McElvaney said. “This is the beginning to a domino effect of reaching all the communities of our immediate area. The hope is to be able to introduce a new location to the class options each session. I believe in leading by example and inspiring our youth to promote teamwork, prevention, education, and awareness of the power of the ocean.”