Program Offers Youth Free Swimming Lessons

Qualifying Third- and Fourth-Graders Given An Opportunity to Take Free Swimming Lessons

Photo: At Berkeley's West Campus Pool, the Every Kid 2 Swim Program provides free swimming lessons to third- and fourth-graders who are in the Free and Reduced-Price lunch program.
Evan Walbridge/File
At Berkeley's West Campus Pool, the Every Kid 2 Swim Program provides free swimming lessons to third- and fourth-graders who are in the Free and Reduced-Price lunch program.

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In an effort to increase access to Berkeley's public pools and ensure that the city's youth learns how to swim, a new program offering free swimming lessons to qualifying third- and fourth-graders launched Saturday.

The Every Kid 2 Swim program, an affiliate of Berkeley Partners for Parks, is offering free swimming lessons to third- and fourth-graders in the Berkeley Unified School District who qualify for the Free and Reduced-Price Lunch program, a national program that provides free lunches to children of low-income families.

The swim program was created by Shelley Hayden, who worked unsuccessfully to save Willard Pool, and is currently giving swimming lessons to 51 students at the West Campus Pool.

"What's really exciting about this program is it is targeting kids ... who have had limited (swimming) access before," said William Rogers, director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department.

One-hour lessons will continue for three more weeks on Saturdays, as well as four weeks in May.

"This is just a start," Rogers said. "Berkeley has a lot of pools in its midst ... I think it's something that will increase access for populations with limited access."

The program is funded in part by a $25 per child donation from the East Bay Regional Parks District. Hayden, chair of the program, said she will need to raise additional private funds to meet the needed $50 per child.

Scott Ferris, recreation and youth services manager for the city, said a national swimming study found that six of 10 black and Latino children in the United States do not know how to swim, while only three of 10 white children do not know how to swim.

Hayden said several barriers - such as expensive lessons, distance from pools and parents' inability to swim - prevent young children from gaining necessary pool skills. Additionally, the closure of the Willard Pool left the city with only three operating public pools, further decreasing access to aquatics programs.

"There is a gap that this program can fill," said Berkeley City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. "This city has budget problems and we could use financial help for this cause. It's a great idea for a nonprofit to step forward and offer its help."

After finishing a set of four lessons, children in the program will receive a certificate of completion consistent with American Red Cross swimming standards.

"Anything we can do to make sure that if somebody saves one life, just one time, it makes everything that we've done worthwhile," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Within the next three or four years, the goal of the program is to make sure every child in the community knows how to swim, Hayden said.

"We are on the water - we are a water community - we live on the Bay," she said. "It makes it more important that kids in our community know how to swim."


Daniel Means covers city government. Contact him at [email protected]

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