With close to four dozen drownings in Massachusetts so far this year, advocates are pushing to make swim lessons more affordable and accessible.
Goldfish Swim School in Needham is already seeing a huge demand for lessons after many skipped them last year due to the pandemic. They are worried because they say kids are eager to jump in the water this year, even if they cannot swim.
"With everything opening back up, the lakes and the pools, people are coming back and they're not necessarily in the safest situation because they haven't been taking these swim lessons that are essentially lifesaving," said Adrian Eagles, regional manager for Goldfish Swim School.
They are keeping classes small and lanes wide due to COVID until mid-July, when they will return to full capacity. Eagles said when that happens, they will be able to serve 400 more children.
"Swim lessons have been proved to reduce the risk of drowning by 88%, so we're talking about a massive impact," Eagles said.
Gwen King enrolled her children after noticing a regression in their swimming skills following the pandemic.
"There's a real false confidence because they haven't been around pools and their friends, so they get distracted and they don't realize they don't know how to swim yet," King said.
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King said she would like to see accessibility improved for all kids.
"I really think it does need to be a more critical component, whether it's in primary education or otherwise, because this is a luxury. Not everyone can access it, and I know I'm privileged to be able to do it," King said.
Improving access is a goal for Cohasset father Gary Cohen. His daughter nearly drowned over a decade ago, which inspired him to bring Big Blue Swim School to the Boston area. He plans to open at least nine locations starting next year.
"This is an important skill. It's an important thing to do and we want to make it as easy and accessible as possible," Cohen said. "What I went through, that's the kind of scare that, as a parent, stays with your forever and ever."
Advocates say the lifeguard shortage is adding to the danger on the water this year. Goldfish Swim School held a lifeguard training Monday, but the shortage makes swimming lessons for children all the more important, the school said.