Photo credit: Edenton-Chowan Recreation Department
Swimming. You heard me right. Swimming lessons have been offered to the second-graders of our elementary school. Since there is only one elementary school in our small town of Edenton, North Carolina, that means every traditional second-grader in our community has been given the opportunity to save themselves from drowning. The parents of 165 children received permission slips and so far every family has said yes, though a few were reluctant at first. Perhaps the fear of water has run deep for generations.
Nationally, 70 percent of African-American children, 60 percent of Hispanic children and 40 percent of white children cannot swim. Every day an average of 10 people drown, and two of them are children under the age of 14. African-American children are three times more likely to drown than their white peers.
According to our second-grade parents, many of their kids have never been taught to swim or have even put one toe in the pool. USA Swimming reports that when children live with parents who don't know how to swim, they have just a 13 percent chance of learning to swim themselves. Just this week I worked with three children who had never been in a pool or under water, and by the end of the morning they could swim well enough to make it 10 feet. Ten feet is the distance between the shore and the deep.
While we have a lovely town that is located on the water, there is no public access to the Albemarle Sound or pool available to the general public. The closest indoor pool is nearly 30 miles away and the logistics and expense involved make it not an option for the majority of our families. Though our country has adopted a common core, nowhere is the word "swimming" mentioned unless it's on a spelling test. No, we are too busy trying to outsmart our European counterparts who, incidentally, include swimming as part of their national curriculum.
Though our country and state may not recognize swimming as essential, our principal has shown that she values it. Our school teamed up with our county’s recreation department, and together they sought out help from various partners for fuel expenses, expert swimmers to teach, volunteers to assist, and a place willing to offer an outdoor pool for a whole September of mornings.
“I am thrilled that we were able to partner with the Edenton-Chowan Recreation Department and offer swimming lessons to our second-graders,” said Sheila Evans, principal of White Oak Elementary School. “As I watched our students in the pool on that first day, I knew this was an incredibly valuable learning experience. By the end of the week, children were not only comfortable in the water, but learned to swim or greatly improved their swimming skills.”
I love my community, and living in eastern North Carolina is a beautiful adventure — though eye-opening when it comes to the many needs of low-income children. While our school can't erase poverty, it can teach 8- and 9-year-olds how to swim and end that cycle. I am proud to be part of a school that knows math and reading are important, but they don't save lives.