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Half of Latino Children Don’t Know How to Swim ~ Getting Kids Ready for Summer in East L.A.

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]ummer is around the corner. Pools all over Los Angeles are preparing for the season. And Mayra Del Rio has already made sure her four year-old son is ready for the water this year because “I don’t know how to swim myself,” she lets out with a sigh that turns into a chuckle.

“It’s kind of hard to be traveling and just going to different places where there’s areas of water and not knowing how to swim,” she says. “I just want [my son] to be able to be free and learn how to swim without being scared of the water.”

According to a 2017 USA Swimming Foundation study, 45 percent of Latino children do not know how to swim or have low swimming ability, putting them at risk of drowning. That number rises depending on parent’s swimming ability — 62 percent of Latino children are likely to not have good swimming skills if their parents have no or low swimming ability.

Del Rio doesn’t want her son to be a part of that statistic. Earlier this year he began his first swimming lessons. Weeks later, he began level two classes.

“If he is ever in a situation where he needs to know how to swim, he’ll be able to survive,“ Del Rio says. “It’s a life skill that not everybody [has]. Just in case, like I said, if we are ever around an environment where there is a pool, and accidents do happen, he’ll be able to swim.”

The Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA in Boyle Heights wants to change the statistic too, and is doing so with the help of a grant from athletic wear company Nike. Elizabeth Padilla, aquatics director at the center, wants community members to know that they can learn how to swim, regardless of their age or income, any time of the year at their indoor pool.

“One of the biggest challenges we actually face is that people think they can’t afford swim lessons or they are intimidated by the water and we are actually trying to make sure that they understand that we have both answers to those challenges,” Padilla says. “We try to offer low-cost swim lessons, and we also offer financial assistance for swim lessons.”

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(Photo courtesy of Nadia Gonzalez)

Del Rio grew up in the projects — she went to both Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools — and said she didn’t have the resources to learn how to swim when she was younger. “They didn’t have that for us,” she says.

Socio-economic status also plays a role in swimming ability. The USA Swimming Foundation study found that 79 percent of children living in a household with an income of less than $50,000 have no or low swimming ability.

“For our YMCA, we never want to turn anyone away because they cannot financially afford a program,” Padilla says. “So that’s something we honor ourselves as a whole at the Y, to be able to provide all programming for anyone, regardless of their economic status.”

The YMCA in Boyle Heights has been able to provide free classes thanks in part to a grant from the Nike Community Impact Fund. It’s one of ten nonprofit organizations on the Eastside that received a grant. “We are proud to support the Weingart YMCA in East Los Angeles as they help more children and families benefit from their aquatics program,” says Blanca Gonzalez, vice president and general manager of North American West Territory at Nike.

(Photo courtesy of Nadia Gonzalez)

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he grant allowed 34 children, including Del Rio’s son, to get free lessons. Classes at the YMCA can go for $72, but range depending on a family’s economic status. Other pools on the Eastside include Belvedere pool and the Roosevelt High pool. The Belvedere pool only offers swimming lessons during the summer for $20 (no-cost classes are possible on an individual basis), but offers pool programming throughout the year. The pool located inside Roosevelt High School also offers swim lessons during the year, $20 for children and $40 for adults during off-season, with free classes that prioritize children in the summer.

“That’s what we want — people to understand like our doors are open to anybody that wants to learn how to swim, whether they are three months or whether they are 80 years old,” Padilla says.

One of the instructors that has helped students of all ages learn how to swim is 16-year-old Stephanie Ortiz. Ortiz has taught all ages as an instructor, and learned how to swim herself at YMCA when she was about seven years old.

“Well, coming to a low-income community, it’s not always accessible to be able to have these luxuries of knowing how to swim,” Ortiz says. “Having like these classes that the YMCA offers […] it’s a really big help to our community.”

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