Swimming. You heard me right. Swimming lessons were offered to the second graders of our elementary school. Since there is only one elementary school in our small town of Edenton, NC, that means every traditional second grader in our community has been given the opportunity to save themselves from drowning. One hundred and sixty five children's parents were sent a permission slip and every family so far has said yes, though a few have been reluctant at first. Perhaps the fear of water has run deep for generations.
Swimming lessons. Nationally, 70% of African American children and 60% of Hispanic children and 40% of white children can not swim. Every day an average of ten people drown and two of them are children under the age of 14. African American children between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than their white peers. According to our second grade parents, many of our second graders have never been taught to swim or put one toe in the pool. The National Swimming Association reports that when children live with families that don't know how to swim they have just a 13% chance of learning to swim themselves. Just this week, I worked with three children who had never been in a pool or under water and by the end of the morning they could swim well enough to make it ten feet. Ten feet is the distance between the shore and the deep.
While we have a lovely town that is located on the water, there is no public access to the Albemarle Sound or pool available to the general public. The closest indoor pool is nearly 30 miles away and the logistics and expense involved make it not an option for the majority of our families. Though our country has adopted a common core, nowhere is the word "swimming" mentioned unless it's on a spelling test. No, we are too busy trying to outsmart our European counterparts who, incidentally, include swimming as part of their national curriculum.
Though our country and state may not recognize swimming as essential, our principal has shown that she values it. Our recreation department sought out help from various partners for fuel expense, expert swimmers to teach, volunteers to assist, and a place willing to offer their outdoor pool for a whole September of mornings. I love my community, living in Eastern NC is a beautiful adventure, though eye opening to the many needs of low-income children. While our school can't erase poverty, it can teach eight and nine year olds how to swim and end that cycle. I am proud to be part of a school that knows math and reading don't save lives.
Photo by Cody Meades