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200 KCK elementary students get free swim lessons to address disparity

GEHA partnered with YMCA, local agencies to address lack of swim lesson access
Swimming pool in KCK
Posted at 4:55 PM, Jul 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-12 18:24:46-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — About 200 students started receiving swim lessons and swim equipment on Tuesday at the Parkwood Pool in Kansas City, Kansas.

It's the same pool where a 13-year-old boy drowned last summer.

The "Learn to Swim" program was thanks to a partnership among GEHA, the YMCA, the Unified Government and KCK Public Schools.

"We wanted to come to an area where there has been a dearth of opportunity historically," Gene Willis said.

Willis is the company's Social Responsibility Manager.

Numbers from the USA Swimming Foundation show 64% of Black children have low or no swimming ability, compared to 45% of Hispanic children and 40% of Caucasian children.

Experts point to public swimming pools’ history of segregation that’s led to barriers to swim lessons.

"In many communities, people don’t like to discuss their trauma," Willis said. "So then you have multiple generations of people who are looking at water and pools with trepidation, with apprehension."

A fear of water or drowning may be inherited.

The USA Swimming foundation study showed that if a parent doesn’t know how to swim, there’s only a 13% chance the child will learn.

Willis said it was important for the lessons to be done at Parkwood.

"Equity means meeting people where they are," he said. "It doesn’t mean providing lessons in areas that aren’t accessible to them, where transportation might not be present, where there may be other barriers."

Gabrielle Pearson is a mother of two children who took swim lessons Tuesday morning. She said that a fear of the water was not a part of her childhood.

"That fear of the water wasn’t something that I personally grew up with," she said. "As far as the Black community, that is a thing."

She was glad that the swim lessons took place at the same pool where she used to visit growing up.

"I think it is really important for Black communities to have access to swimming pools, to have access to lessons and stuff like that, because it helps to reduce the fears and the stigma that surrounds swimming and surrounds water," she said. "It’s all about access."