Milwaukee Recreation works to provide water safety access

Posted at 9:16 PM, Jun 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-02 12:37:04-04

Milwaukee Recreation offers year-round swim lessons at pools in every neighborhood across the city.

Instructors hope that access will save lives in all communities.

At Marshall High School’s pool, TODAY'S TMJ4 met two-year-old Zoe, who participated in her first swim lesson.  

Zoe's great-aunt, Karen Philips, just learned to swim last year. She doesn’t want Zoe to live in fear, and she doesn’t want to fear for Zoe.

“Every summer on the news, you hear about children dying from a swimming accident,” said Philips.

Philips says part of her motivation for getting Zoe started early is knowing children of color who did die as a result of a swimming accident. From 1999 to 2010, the CDC took a deep dive into the numbers of how minority children fare in water.

Their study showed black children drowned at rates 5.5 times higher than white children. Children are not alone.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health, from 2015 to 2016, 28 people drowned in Milwaukee County. Most of those victims were adults. Black victims drowned at more than double the rate of white victims.

“I get physical pain every time I hear about a death in the water,” said Milwaukee Recreation Aquatics Supervisor, Nicole Jacobson.

She, along with her staff,  works to educate families in their neighborhoods; helping 5,000 people a year learn to swim. Jacobson says, by design,  the classes are reflective of the communities they serve.

Dad, Anthony Sebree, believes it's a stroke in the right direction, partially blaming access for the plaguing problem.

“I cannot (swim). That's why I want him to swim,” said Sebree.  

Jacobson says many times it's the children who jump in pools first, with older family members following up with lessons.

“Often times when we talk about the statistics of African American and Latino populations not having access to programs and pools that our Caucasian counterparts do,  it just means that our work here is more vital to the community we are serving. Swimming is the only sport that could end up saving your life someday, it's a life skill to have,” said Jacobson.

She may not understand the importance now. However, at just two-years-old, it’s a life skill Zoe is already kicking towards.

“I'm just proud of her,  that she's not afraid of the water,” said Philips.

The next round of swim classes starts June 18. Swim classes through Milwaukee Recreation cost $36  per person, for a season of lessons.

If you can prove, your family lives with a low income, the cost drops to $26 per person. Scholarships are also available for families to help cover the cost of lessons.

For more information, click here.