Janey Announces the Swim Safely Partnership to Increase Access to Lessons

Mayor Kim Janey announced the Swim Safely Partnership, aimed to increase access to swimming lessons especially for those who have faced historic and economic barriers. Mayor Janey made the announcement at Roxbury’s YMCA, an organization participating in the multi-part community strategy. This initiative seeks to increase swim safety by offering free YMCA swim lessons for children and adults, expanding the lifeguard workforce through free training, and plans to implement a pilot program that offers free swimming lessons for Boston Public Schools (BPS) students at some schools as part of the curriculum.

“Our beautiful City gems, such as our pools and beaches, should be places people can access with safety and confidence,” said Mayor Kim Janey. “Too often fear of water due to false and negative cultural assumptions, an overall lack of access, and the dearth of swimming caps to properly accommodate Black hair prevent enjoyment of these resources. I applaud all our community partners for expanding access to life-saving swimming skills that will also boost the physical, mental, and social well-being of our City’s residents.”

Swimming accidents are a public health threat. The Commonwealth saw far too many drownings this year, including here in Boston. These tragic accidents coupled with a lifeguard shortage highlight the need for action. 

According to the American Red Cross, swimming lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent. To help address this need locally, the YMCA of Greater Boston has emerged as a key partner, offering free swimming lessons, starting on November 1st. The organization will offer 8-week sessions at the Roxbury YMCA, the Dorchester YMCA, and the Menino YMCA (Hyde Park). 

“We proudly welcome Mayor Janey to the Roxbury Y,” said James Morton, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston. “We appreciate her attention to this much needed swim safety program and for recognizing the Y as a strong partner in this work.”

The YMCA will also help increase the lifeguard workforce by providing free training and certification, in collaboration with BPS high schools. These trainings will provide an excellent opportunity for youth employment in the City, while also ensuring the safety of our pools and waterfront spaces. Boston Public Schools is also planning a pilot program in the winter/spring to explore offering swimming lessons as part of the curriculum for some students.  

“It is so important that our children, particularly in communities of color, develop swimming and water safety skills that will stay with them for the rest of their lives,” said BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “The Boston Public Schools recognizes swimming as an important life skill and is excited to work alongside our City and non-profit partners on this critical initiative. All of our students deserve the opportunity to access the wealth of resources and recreational activities a coastal city like ours has to offer.”

Nationwide, drowning is the leading cause of death in children aged one to four and the second leading cause of accidental death in children aged one to fourteen. Black children ages 10-14 are more than seven times more likely to drown than white children of the same age, according to the CDC. 

Economic inequities also persist. A 2017 report commissioned by USA Swimming found that in families with an annual household income below $50,000, 79 percent of children have little or no swimming ability.

The Swimming Safely Partnership programming emphasizes cultural competency, including community conversations led by the Save the Harbor Women of Color Coalition and the provision of Soul Caps, specially designed swim caps for natural hair, to program participants.

“The Boston Harbor Women of Color Coalition is overjoyed to be part of this initiative and to host culturally informed community conversations that will provide an extra level of comfort for our community members of color to confidently support their children and families in, around, and after swimming in pools and any of the amazing blue spaces Boston has to offer,” said Maya Smith, Partnerships & Program Development Director at Save the Harbor Boston and co-founder of their Women of Color Coalition. “Mayor Janey is helping to ensure that our communities will have safe and equitable access to swimming and waterways including the incredible resource that is Boston Harbor, and we are proud to share that mission.”

Additional partners who have joined this important initiative include the Boston Triathlon, which will be developing more youth competition in the City and exposing young athletes to the sport of swimming.

“The Boston Triathlon is committed to helping organize and provide additional swim clinics throughout the year in the City of Boston. Together with USA Swimming and USA Triathlon we will continue to grow our ‘Splash and Dash’ so children across the City have access. We want to increase accessibility and remove barriers for people of color to our sport,” said Michael O’Neil, President of the Boston Triathlon. 

The financing of this initiative will come from various sources, including an investment from Mayor Janey’s Joy Agenda, which was matched by a philanthropic contribution from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. 

“Blue Cross is committed to the health of children and families in our communities,” said Jeff Bellows, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Public Affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “We’re proud to partner with the City to ensure that all kids, and especially those living in under-resourced neighborhoods, learn how to swim by providing free swim lessons and water safety classes to Boston’s youth.”

This new program builds off of the City’s existing water safety efforts including swim lessons and other aquatics programs offered by Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF).

For more information about the Swim Safely Partnership, to receive swim lesson sign-up information, or to learn more about lifeguard training, please email [email protected].

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