The Daily Tar Heel
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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

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The Daily Tar Heel

In a break from a rough week of news, something pleasant finally graced the the DTH editorial board. No, coronavirus has not been cured, and the future of American politics is still up in the air, but Orange County Schools will be providing free swim lessons starting next month. Ah, a news story that doesn’t induce a panic attack.

Starting early next month, some second-grade students in Orange County Schools will begin free swim lessons for physical education. These lessons will officially be part of their physical education curriculum in the schools. 

According to the Daily Tar Heel, this program is a partnership between Orange County Schools, Swim for Charlie and the Orange County Sportsplex. Swim for Charlie is a nonprofit organization in Orange County with a mission to “provide financial resources for youth-focused water safety programs which aim to provide the opportunity for every child to be safe in and around the water.”

As of now, only three schools will pilot this program: Central Elementary, Efland-Cheeks Global Elementary and New Hope Elementary. Still, these represent almost half of all elementary schools in the county — a promising start.

Water safety is an incredibly important skill to have. Statistics show that almost 3,600 people die of drowning each year in the United States and children represent 945 of those deaths. Swimming skills should not merely be a suggestion if people across this country are still dying from drowning. This program is a step in the right direction.

The benefits from a program like this extend beyond learning basic swimming skills. Introducing children to the water at a young age can encourage greater physical health and afford opportunities to them. Students can develop an interest and passion for a sport that they may not have been able to in a traditional physical education program.

Introducing programs like Swim for Charlie are an equitable and important way these schools are protecting future generations of North Carolinians. 

Another aspect of this program that is encouraging is that the program is free. No child should be denied life-saving skills because they are too expensive to learn. The Swim for Charlie program is not only free, but transportation will also be part of the program. Lowering these barriers for students here is an effective and equitable way to encourage safety and a healthy lifestyle.

In writing this, it is important to acknowledge the racial discrepancies in water safety and the racism that has contributed to some groups not knowing how to swim. Pools were historically segregated spaces and the effects of that are still seen today. 

In 2017, USA Swimming found that 64 percent of African-American children have little to no swimming abilities. Segregation, cost and other barriers still exist and prevent people from gaining these essential skills. This program is working to combat these problems and actively provide solutions, making it doubly worthy of praise.

This initiative is a solid step from within our community to alleviate some of the problems we face. It’s not often that we get to read about something so promising. Here’s to hoping this program, and similar ones, can expand to more schools across the state.

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