Every day, about ten Americans die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children age 14 or younger. Among children 1-14, fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes.
Among children 1-14, fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death.
Make a Splash
2017 and 2018
Among people of color, the risk of drowning is even higher.
According to the USA Swimming Foundation, 70 percent of African American and 60 percent of Latinos have little to no swimming ability, compared to 40 percent of whites. The CDC reports that African American children age 5-19 drown in swimming pools at 5.5 times the rate of their white counterparts.
Hennepin County’s Make a Splash program is trying to help. Since 2017, the program, a collaboration with the U.S. Swimming Foundation, has allowed local swim providers to offer free or low-cost swim lessons and water safety classes to metro-area children. The Hennepin County Board is grant funding the initiative through its Hennepin County Youth Sports Program.
For the past two years, sisters Olivia and Sylvana Berry have participated in Make a Splash swim lessons in Brooklyn Park. Through the program, Brooklyn Park offers its Kid Zone summer camp participants, like Olivia and Sylvana, a week of swim instruction. The girls have continued to take lessons in Brooklyn Park year-round, even when camp is not in session.
Neither girl had taken lessons before Make a Splash. Now, due to Make a Splash and additional swim instruction, they’ve learned to float on their backs and stomachs, kick, glide, and are starting to dabble in swim strokes. Olivia reports that she recently swam a full length of the pool.
“One of the good things about Make a Splash is that they ask participants what swim level they’re at,” says their father, Reedus Berry. By placing kids of similar abilities together, the program helps ensures that swimmers don’t feel overwhelmed or bored. It also means that kids can progress for years through Make a Splash, moving from zero ability to high proficiency.
Hennepin County is working with five Make a Splash swim providers in the metro. These providers are giving swim lessons and water safety classes that are tailored to the unique needs and demographics of their communities.
In Brooklyn Park, where Olivia and Sylvana take lessons, for instance, the city decided to incorporate Make a Splash into its Kid Zone summer camp after listening to residents.
“What we found is that our Kid Zone summer camp kids didn’t have the opportunity for swim lessons,” says Michelle Margo, Brooklyn Park Recreation and Parks program and services manager. “They didn’t know about swim lessons. So summer camp became that resource.”
Because many families also told Margo that transportation was a barrier to accessing pools, Kid Zone summer camp participants receive bussing to their lessons.
Margo says another benefit of embedding Make a Splash in the city’s summer camp is that camp counselors can get in the pool and assist swim instructors. “Our Kid Zone camp counselors have built relationships with the kids,” says Margo. “It gives kids a sense of, ‘It’s OK to get in the pool because my counselor is in the pool, too!’”
As far as demographics, Margo said that 90% of summer camp participants are children of color. Ninety percent qualify for reduced school lunches, and the majority live in apartment buildings. Many of these apartments have pools. As a result, the program is doing outreach to apartment managers to promote Make a Splash. It’s also collaborating with the Brooklyn Park police department to teach water safety classes during the city’s two-day Safety Camp.
Make a Splash is a gateway to other swim programs. In Brooklyn Park, for instance, Kid Zone summer camp participants can continue to take swim lessons year-round through Brooklyn Park’s aquatics program. The city also offers swim classes for adults. If money is an issue, Brooklyn Park’s youth scholarship program can help. As a result, “People will never feel like they’ve aged out,” says Margo. “They can continue with lessons through many stages of their lives.”
The Berry family has seen the value of swim lessons firsthand, and hopes to keep their daughters enrolled in them. Each girl even has swim goals for the future. Olivia would like to learn to hold her breathe and tread water for longer periods of time. Sylvana would like to master a front dive.
“The more the girls are around water, the more comfortable they get,” Reedus Berry says. “Not only do they seem more comfortable around water, they’re also more cautious. They recognize their limits.”
To learn more about Make a Splash or to register for swim lessons, go to hennepin.us/swimlessons
Written by: Lori Imsdahl