Fun pools, swim lessons to help reduce drownings

County officials seek to stem drownings among Black youths

Erick Johnson | 4/24/2014, 9 a.m.

Who can forget Aug. 3, 2010?

That day, the family of Dekendrix Warner was having a picnic at a park in Shreveport, La. The 15-year-old was playing in the Red River when he slipped onto a thick clay surface before landing into 15 feet of water.

The incident set off a tragic chain reaction, as six other Black teenagers went to save Dekendrix. None of them knew how to swim. They all drowned as their parents, who also could not swim, watched helplessly as their children sank to their watery graves crying for help.

It’s a problem that's occurring throughout the country. Black children are dying at a startling rate, not just by gunfire on the streets – but they are now six times more likely to drown in swimming pools than white children the same age.

Recent statistics are deeply disturbing. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s pool safety report, last year African American and Hispanic children from five to 14 years old are at greater risk of drowning than whites.

And data from USA Swimming indicate that 70 percent of African American children and 62 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, making them more likely to drown.

But with the pool season just around the corner, officials in Miami and the County are stepping up efforts to urge Black parents in low-income communities to enroll their children in swim lessons. They hope simple water safety skills and swim lessons will help save the lives of more Black youth.

Because of the overall drowning rate in the country, County officials are making swim lessons among all ethnic groups and ages a top priority. Statistics show having basic water safety skills can dramatically reduce one’s chances of drowning.

According to the Florida Department of Health, there were 10 drownings among Blacks last year. Nine of those deaths were adults.

In February, County officials reopened the popular, year-round 50 meter swimming pool in Goulds Park in South Miami-Dade as part of a $2.26 million renovation project that added a new splash pool and fitness zone. The pool is a favorite among Blacks, who participate in the County’s Learn to Swim program, where students learn the fundamentals of various strokes, water safety skills and emergency survival techniques such as floating above water. Each class runs for 45 minutes. For parent with tot programs, where moms and dads play fun water games and exercises with their toddlers, classes are 30 minutes.

Most of the County pools offer leisure swim times in which families and teenagers can play or practice swimming skills in a more relaxed environment.

“Water safety skills will help parents recognize the hazards of being around a pool so survival is not just about knowing how to swim,” said Jim O'Connor, Aquatics Safety Coordinator for Miami-Dade Parks and Open Spaces.

Last year, a total of 11,927 people took swim lessons at county pools according to O’Connor.

Among the pools in predominately Black neighborhoods, Little River Pool had the highest amount of participants with 531.

But the most popular pool usually frequented by Blacks is Goulds, which did not have any swim lessons last year since it was closed for renovations. But in 2010, the pool had 1,143 participants according to O’Connor.

There are other urban pools that offer swim lessons, but they are seasonal pools that only provide lessons during the summer.

They include Arcola Pool at 1680 NW 87 Street, Gwen Cherry Pool, 7090 NW 22 Ave. and Little River Pool, 10525 NW 24 Ave.

O’Connor said swim lessons are usually offered for free with various summer camps.

But parents can enroll their children in swim lesson-only programs for a low rate, depending on the participant’s income.

The City of Miami also has swim programs at its pools. They are offered year-round at Charles Hadley Pool, 1300 NW 50 St, and (Theodore) Gibson Pool in Overtown, 1300 NW 50 St. The City’s seasonal pools include, Williams Pool in Overtown, 1717 NW 5 Ave, (Athalie) Range Pool in Liberty City, 525 NW 62 St, and Curtis (Park) Pool, 1901 NW 24 St.

For registration, participants should call the park for special times and days available.