Each day, 10 people in the U.S. die from drowning, with two of those deaths being children under the age of 14.
And while the abnormally high drowning rate for African-American children has been documented and reported on, less attention has been directed at Hispanic youths, 60 percent of whom cannot swim, according to a 2010 study commissioned by the USA Swimming Foundation.
“We realized there’s an epidemic out there,” said Debbie Hesse, the foundation’s executive director.
This year, according to Hesse, the foundation has taken aim at curbing that epidemic, especially for minority children. Under its Make a Splash campaign, which began in 2009 and uses partnerships with more than 725 swim-lesson providers and advocacy organizations to increase access to swim programs for young people and their families, the foundation has set a goal of teaching 800,000 children how to swim.
Within the scope of its goal, the foundation has taken specific measures to ensure access to the Latino community, including the addition of Spanish-speaking representatives on its Make a Splash tour, which recently hit its 40th city since the campaign’s debut.
The campaign offers bilingual educational resources as well, such as learn-to-swim materials, bracelets, and bag tags.
“When we look at educating people, we’re really looking at the materials that we have and making sure they connect with every community,” said Tina Dessart, the Make a Splash program manager. “Making sure that they’re bilingual has made a huge impact, I think, in those communities that were desperate for it.”
Olympic medalists like Jessica Hardy and Cullen Jones, both of whom nearly drowned as children, are also backing the campaign. In particular, Jones—the second African-American ever to win a gold medal in swimming—has really served as a role model for both African-American and Latino communities, and his participation in the campaign has resonated with many minority children, according to Hesse.
Though the foundation won’t find out until January if it hit its 2015 goal, as of May nearly 300,000 children had received lessons, and that number is expected to grow rapidly once summer figures arrive in September, Dessart said. By 2017, the foundation wants to reach 1 million children annually.
“By making swim lessons more apparent within the public and more of a skill set for everybody to learn, ... we could truly change the landscape” of not only swimming safety, but of USA Swimming’s demographic, which we want more diversified, Hesse said.
Image: USA Swimming Foundation
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.