Local program teaches free swimming lessons, aims to incorporate them into public schools
Drowning is quick, and often silent. It can happen in just 30 seconds, and is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide. To help prevent further drowning deaths and injuries in the Cape Fear region, UNCW has organized a pilot program that will help children in underserved communities learn to swim.
According to the World Health Organization, children with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning. And Black children and teenagers are 5.5 times more likely to drown than their white counterparts.
Those findings are what inspired the UNCW Learn to Swim program — a collaborative initiative between various campus and community organizations. It’s also the passion project of UNCW staff member and alumna, Ann Freeman.
“I started this while I was working on my Master's in Public Administration. And so in 2016, I started looking at the swimming abilities of African Americans and looked at the CDC statistics. And it was showing that African Americans have the highest drowning statistics. And we're in a coastal community.”
Freeman’s research then led to three recommendations:
- Develop a Learn to Swim campaign, to increase awareness of the importance of learning to swim.
- Build community partnerships to provide funding and facility support to make swim instruction more accessible to underrepresented communities.
- Incorporate swimming lessons into the New Hanover County Schools curriculum.
24 students from D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy will get two weeks of free swimming lessons as part of the program. That’s with the help of NSea Swim, which offers free lessons at the Earl Jackson Pool in Wilmington’s Northside.
If the pilot continues to be successful, and a consistent source of funding is established — Freeman hopes programs like this can be implemented into schools.
“We're a coastal community, with the Cape Fear River to our west, the Atlantic Ocean to our east — it makes total sense that we should figure out a way to offer this to our kids in the public school system so that no kid is missed.”