How SwimRVA’s learn-to-swim program is about more than swimming

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- As summer quickly approaches, kids from all over central Virginia will be jumping back into the pool.

“With neighborhood pools opening up, people will be going to vacation to lakes, rivers, oceans, and beaches. So it’s important to be water safe,” said Scott Bennett, SwimRVA’s Director of Communications.

That’s the mission of Swim RVA’s learn-to-swim program. Learn-to-swim is a program that in partnership with local schools, teaches second graders how to swim. SwimRVA pays for transportation, lifeguards, swim instructors and water time.

Bennett says a goal of SwimRVA is to provide resources and opportunities to the inner-cities, so people who don’t have those resources can learn how to swim.

Swimming is critical for all kids. Fifty percent of the population does not know how to swim, but especially minority children where 70% of African-Americans don't know how to swim.

According to SwimRVA, 10 people drown every single day. In addition, drowning is the number one cause of accidental injury-related death for 4 years olds and younger. Drowning is also the second leading cause of death for children 14 years and younger.

When CBS 6 visited, a diverse group of second graders from J.G Hening Elementary school jumped into the pool.

Each child goes through a seven-week training program, completing seven stations. At the completion of each station, the child gets to ring a bell and receive cheers from their peers every time they get to advance to the next station.

Hening Elementary parent Michael Pilkerton said the program is not just about success in the pool. He said the program leads to success in the classroom as well.

“My son is on the autism spectrum so it reinforces, 'hey I can do this, I have the ability to do it. I can go out there and perform on that level and not have to feel scared.' It also allows him to perform well in school,” said Pilkerton.

SwimRVA's learn-to-swim program currently has more than 57 different schools participating and hopes to have all 120 elementary schools in the Richmond-area participating.

The program has helped more than 6,000 students learn to swim since the program started in 2012. If you would like to learn more about the program or how to take lesson visit www.SwimRichmond.org.