Robbie Owens for CBS 11 News | CBSDFW.COMBy Robbie Owens

GRAND PRAIRIE (CBSDFW.COM) – The summer swim season is off to a heartbreaking start.  Police in Grand Prairie say 8-year-old Aaron Starks drowned while playing in Joe Pool Lake Monday.  The Mesquite first grader was not wearing a life jacket.

“Texas is now leading the nation in the number of children that we lose every summer,” says Jan Emler, founder of Emler Swim Schools.  “It’s a terrible distinction for our state.”

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Emler has operated a chain of swim schools for 38 years. She says every child should learn to swim.  But, they should also wear US Coast Guard approved life jackets, adding “never anything that you can blow up.”

Emler is also a fan of what she calls “touch supervision”—which means a parent or adult is watching a child so closely that they can touch them and therefore respond quickly in an emergency situation.  And that’s especially true when young swimmers are away from the comfort and safety of a pool’s concrete walls and clear water.  Lake water, Emler points out, is quite murky.

“You cannot see them,” says Dallas Mom Christina Murzin.  “They can be right at your feet.  But, with the currents and things you can’t feel them, and they’re under the water and they’re gone! It doesn’t take very long.”

And she’s right.  Murzin’s 5-year-old, Dutch, has been swimming since he was a toddler.  But, she still insists on her little ones wearing life jackets.

“Even though he swims, he’s too young.  If he were to get bonked by his sister, or just couldn’t get his breath and you can’t find them.  So, he would be in a life jacket.

Experts also encourage parents to have a specific plan in place to protect children anytime they’re near water—especially during large gatherings.

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“You expect that somebody is watching the children,” says Emler, “when in actuality, probably nobody is.”

Whether the location is a backyard pool or an area lake, Emler is encouraging parents participating in group gatherings to use what’s called a ‘water watcher tag.’

It’s a simple plastic card attached to a coiling wristlet that reminds the wearer of the specific duties—no conversation, no distractions, just watching the kids.

“It doesn’t have to be for long—it can be just 15 minutes,” says Emler.  But, [it] will allow someone to know at that specific time that they are the only person watching the children and it makes the swimming situation safer for all.”

CBS 11 has teamed up with a local non-profit to spread the word that the cards are available for free to help families stay safe in and around the water this summer.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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