Swimming is an Essential Skill, Not a Privilege

May 03, 2021

Here at the Y, we believe that every person deserves access to water safety classes, no matter their circumstances. Since 2008 in collaboration with the Police Activity League, City of Waterbury Rec Department, and our YMCA we have provided and served over 8,000 children with free swim lessons that we call Learn to Swim to ensure that all families have the skills they need to keep them safe. 

Throughout the year we also provide swim lessons! We make swim lessons affordable by providing Financial Assistance to those who qualify. Financial Aid forms can be downloaded here or picked up at the front desk and are awarded all year around. Call or email Rubi Gil-Lopez to learn more at rgil@waterburyymca.org or call 203.754.9622 ext 102.

Take a moment to read a quick blurb about the disparities of children of color and its importance in swim lessons in our Black and Brown communities from whyy.org. To read the full article    click here

Disparities put kids of color at risk

A 2017 study from the University of Memphis found that 66 percent of African-American kids couldn’t swim well enough to be safe in the deep end of a pool.

“That number is very frightening,” said Carol Irwin, an associate professor at the university and the lead researcher of the study. Her team surveyed parents and teenagers at YMCA recreation centers in five U.S. cities and found that only 36% of white children lacked the same basic swimming skills.

“So 36% to 66%. That’s a huge disparity,” Irwin said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black children are almost six times more likely to die from drowning than white children, suggesting that these swimming disparities often have fatal consequences.

Irwin’s research has also looked for reasons why such disparities exist. She’s found that easy access to pools and family incomes that can potentially accommodate swimming lessons are important factors that correlate with better swimming ability.

In focus-group interviews, Irwin said, many black parents also expressed an overriding fear of the water.

“Basically saying, ‘No, I’m not gonna put my kids into swimming because I’m scared they’ll drown.’ ”

Her research hasn’t established where that fear comes from, but Irwin noted that a history of segregation often made swimming an activity open to whites only.


A legacy of segregated swim clubs

Consuella Monk experienced discrimination around swimming pools first-hand.

Growing up in Yeadon, Delaware County, she said, she didn’t have many opportunities to swim. One storied Yeadon swim club, The Nile, was opened by black residents who weren’t allowed to join the other club in town.

But Monk’s family couldn’t afford a membership at the Nile, and she never learned to swim.

“As a child, I had a near-drowning at the beach, and from then on, my mom was like, ‘No, you’re not getting in the water,’ ” she said.

Discrimination at suburban swim clubs continued into the 1980s and ’90s, Monk said. As recently as 2009, one Montgomery County swim club was sued for an incident of discrimination against a day-care group from Philadelphia.

In her experience, Monk said, the legacy of segregation persisted in African-American communities.


If you would like to help provide families access to water safety, please contact Patti Flaherty at pflaherty@waterburyymca.org.