Advocates for learn-to-swim in Rhode Island


The following article written by Jeanine Achin and Nicole Dufresne and published in the Providence Journal on June 15, 2014 can be found by clicking here.


Summer is just around the corner. That means more time at pools, lakes, ponds and/or one of our many Rhode Island beaches. Unfortunately, this also means an increased risk of drowning. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children under the age of 14. Overall, drowning now ranks as the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States.Even more frightening are the statistics that break down the demographics of drowning victims.


According to USA Swimming Foundation:

  • 70 percent of African American children cannot swim.
  • 60 percent of Latino children cannot swim.
  • 40 percent of Caucasian children cannot swim.
  • Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death for children under the age of 14.


How can we reverse these awful statistics? The answer is simple: teach everyone to swim. Research backs the premise with proven data. A study by the USA Swimming Foundation states that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88 percent.


So now, the question becomes: why doesn’t every child have an opportunity to learn to swim? Sadly, there are a myriad of answers to this question. Many families cannot afford to pay for lessons. Some parents may be afraid of the water, and therefore are apprehensive to send their child for lessons.


Whatever the reasons, it is time to find ways to remove barriers to swim lessons and encourage all children to learn to swim by making lessons more available.


In New York City, the YMCA has instituted its 2nd Grade Swim program, offering swimming lessons in eight-week cycles throughout the academic year and during school hours. Children are brought from their school to their local YMCA for lessons. This successful program is something that could be replicated in Rhode Island to ensure that all our young people have the aquatic skills they need. The YMCA chose second grade because second grade is an ideal time for young people to take on new challenges, learn more skills, and enhance their feelings of mastery and competence.


The YMCA of Greater Providence and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Providence have joined together in an effort to reach those most at risk for drowning. We are working with a number of agencies and schools across Providence to identify children who will benefit most from swim instruction.Our goal in the coming months is to teach 200 non-swimmers to swim by targeting children in pre-school through age 12 who live in Providence neighborhoods and are most at risk. Beginning in June through August, both organizations will provide summer day camp scholarships to children that will include the opportunity to participate in swim instruction classes at our indoor and outdoor pools, lakes, ponds and salt water beaches. Through this scholarship initiative, we hope to teach an additional 400 children to swim during the camp season.


This isn’t the first time that the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Clubs have taken on this task. In answer to a YMCA campaign “to teach every man and boy in North America” to swim, George Corsan arrived at the Detroit YMCA in 1909 to teach swimming using radical new methods: group swimming lessons and lessons on land as a confidence builder. In Newark, N.J., alone, he taught 800 boys to swim in just four weeks.


For the Boys and Girls Clubs of Providence, the oldest continually operating such club in the country, both its Fox Point and South Side Clubhouses feature indoor, heated, 25-meter pools. As an invaluable resource for the children it serves, the organization has long offered swim lessons, water exercise classes and free swim under the watchful eye of trained and certified lifeguards. Thousands of children have benefited.


The commitment to teach all children and adults to be safe in and around the water should not stop when the summer ends. We have made a commitment to work with youth across Providence and throughout Rhode Island to ensure that the risk of drowning is greatly reduced, or better yet, becomes non-existent. Will you join us?


Jeanine Achin is the district executive director of the YMCA of Greater Providence East Side and Providence Youth Services branches. Nicole Dufresne is the executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Providence.

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