"She definitely needs to have the experience of being in the water," he said watching 8-year-old Paige kick her way through the water. "She's not always going to be in our presence, so I want her to be able to handle herself."
Van Thomas enrolled his daughter in Bryant's swim school hoping to teach her respect for the water that could truly be a lifesaver, spurred by fear of
"What if they would have had that safety net, even just a little bit, what difference would that have made?" he said. "That's what I think about when I see those situations."
Most of the kids instructor Jordan Martin splashes with in the swimming poo are there for the same reason, parents are pushing water safety.
"Most of them [parents] that's what their main worry is, getting kids used to the water and being able to swim," Martin said. "When you have a child that isn't used to the water, they'll panic, they don't know where to turn or what to do and that's when things go downhill."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 3,500 fatal drowning deaths occur every year. Of those, 20 percent of the victims are younger than 14 years old. Drowning's the leading cause of death second to birth defects in children under age four. And Arkansas' drowning rate is double that of the U.S. average.
"That's really what we're aiming to do is prevent someone drowning in the future. Which we really don't want to happen," said Bryant Aquatics Assistant Director Jacob Wright.
Wright helps oversee the program, and he said by the time kids complete the month-long course they will be able to stay afloat, even if they find themselves in over their heads.
"If they fall in the water, they'll be able to get back up to the surface, and they'll know how to get horizontal in the water," he said. "And teaching them how to swim early on is important. You don't want them to be afraid of the water, but to have fun in it while respecting it."
CDC data show the top contributing factor in fatal drownings is not knowing how to swim.
"That's why I want her to have all the experience she can in learning how to swim," Thomas said. "That way it won't matter whether we're at the pool or out on the lake."
Having seen the stride his daughter's made Thomas' entire family is planning to hit the pool to take some swimming lessons.
"I'm feeling 10 times better. Actually, as soon as she's done my son is going to sign up and my wife's going to sign up because she never learned how to swim as a child either," he said.
The Bryant Swim School not only teaches kids the basics of swimming, but also gives them a chance to develop the fun activity into a sport. The swim school classes continue through Level 5, teaching swimmers on a competitive level.
The swim school program runs year round, with the next class beginning in July. To find out how to register, click here.