Courtney Ashley was only 9 years old when she had a near-drowning experience, a trauma that’s stuck with her through the years into adulthood.

“I just assumed that you could jump in there and you could do it, and clearly you can’t,” she said.

So the Jesup resident has wasted little time signing up her son Ethan, 6, for swim lessons, for his safety and her peace of mind.

Ashley was among the parents and grandparents bearing the brunt of the hot June sun Thursday while their children splashed in the pool at Epworth By the Sea on St. Simons, where around 20 young swimmers participated in the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson.

Nicole Fairfield, a local swim instructor who offers lessons all summer, brought the event back this year in hopes of promoting water safety in the Golden Isles.

The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson is a global drowning prevention event that began in 2010. The program is supported by leading aquatics and safety organizations around the world and takes place at numerous kinds of aquatic facilities, like waterparks, pools and swim schools. The global event is a platform that helps communities build awareness about the importance of teaching children to swim.

Drowning is the the No. 1 cause of death for children in the United States who are ages 1-4, and it’s the second leading cause for children 5-14, according to WLSL.

Fairfield has more than two decades of experience teaching swim lessons and water safety programs. She leads the Georgia Swim School, and this year she launched a podcast titled “Navigating Neva” that offers weekly educational episodes on water safety topics.

Hundreds of thousands have taken part in the annual World’s Largest Swimming Lesson, and Fairfield hosts the local opportunity to participate with the support of volunteer instructors.

Ashley brings her family to the beach often, and she’s looking forward to the next trip when she will not have to keep her 6-year-old so close.

“He’s at the age now where he wants his independence and freedom, and I can’t really give it to him because of my own fears,” she said. “Now that he’s getting this lesson, he and I both can be more comfortable.”

Jennifer Chase, a Glynn County resident, brought her 5-year-old granddaughter to the swim lesson for the same reason. Lillian is getting tired of wearing her floaties, Chase said, and she needs to know how to safely enjoy the pool at home and trips to the beach.

“All these other swim places are booked up for lessons, so I saw this and I thought, ‘Oh here we go,’” Chase said. “It’s a start.”

For more information on water safety, visit Visit to learn more about Fairfield’s classes or to hear her podcast.

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