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Cincinnati Pools Offering Free Swim Lessons To Increase Pool Safety This Summer

Tana Weingartner
Children check out the water - and dodge cicadas - at Hirsch Recreation Center in Avondale.

Lack of swimming ability is a chief reason drowning is a leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cincinnati Children's, the Cincinnati Recreation Commission and others are partnering to offer free swimming lessons this summer at some city pools.

The "I Can Swim" program provides American Red Cross instruction focusing on learning, developing and refining swimming skills. Lessons are based around swim competency, starting with kids as young as 6 months old. There are also classes for adults.

"Our goal is to make swimming and swim lessons the 'in' thing for young people across the city," says Daniel Betts, Cincinnati Recreation Commission director. "We want to make sure that young people across our city are exposed to learning to swim and there are no barriers to them being able to learn to swim."

The CDC says three children die per day from drowning, and for every child who dies, another five go to emergency rooms for nonfatal submersion injuries. There's also a disparity between white and minority children. Nationally, Betts says, 60% of African Americans and Latinos don't know how to swim.

"African American children ages 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of whites," the CDC reports. "This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years where African Americans drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites."

Males also make up the majority of all drowning victims at 80%, the agency states.

"Quite frankly, there's too many poor white, Black and Brown citizens in our city that just don't know how to swim," Betts concludes.

"It's important that we make supports available to communities, and especially communities of color," agrees Monica Mitchell, senior director of community relations for Cincinnati Children's. "Reports show that African American and Hispanic children and parents are less likely to know how to swim."

Cincinnati Children's is funding the programming as a way of removing barriers that keep those with less access or less ability to pay from learning to swim.

Mitchell reports the medical center saw an uptick in the number of drownings in 2020. Nine Tri-State children died of drowning during the pandemic last year, she notes, compared to 1-3 in previous years. She attributes that to more people staying home and being near home pools and waters.

YMCA of Greater Cincinnati President Jorge Perez adds the pandemic may have created deficiencies in swimming competency. Some public pools remained closed because of COVID-19.

"This year, although we've got cicadas all around us, we're not going to get disrupted. Kids are going to get in the water and have a great time. (Drowning) is the number one killer of young people, for kids of color it's that much more dangerous and we want to create these opportunities (to learn)."

The "I Can Swim" program also aims to train lifeguards so local pools can be fully staffed. Lessons are free and open to children and adults. More information - and registration information - can be found here.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.