Sink or Swim: Cultural Divide?

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Tallahassee - July 3, 2012 - 11:56pm

Trinidad Wilson has been teaching children how to swim for three years at the YMCA in Tallahassee.

"You teach someone how to swim and that's saving a life," said Wilson.

But many people in some cultural or lower socioeconomic groups, may never learn that life-saving skill.

"70% of African American and Hispanic children don't learn how to swim and 42% of white children don't know how to swim, we just think that number is too high," said Nicole Stookey with the Department of Children and Families.

Those who work at the YMCA say they definitely see what they call a cultural divide in who is registering for swimming lessons.

"Maybe it's about access, maybe it's about generation of parents maybe not knowing how to swim therefore they push or don't push their children to learn," said Jennifer Jones, the YMCA Aquatics Director.

"Different cultures are inclined to do different things," said Wilson.

Wilson, along with everyone else at the YMCA are trying to change that, and put the word out that swimming is not just about splashing in the water but a life-saving tool.

"You can drown in as little as two inches of water and it takes less time to drown than it does to make a sandwich or to change a load of laundry," said Jones.

The Centers for Disease Control says the two groups most at risk for drowning are minorities and small children. It says African Americans are three times more likely to drown than whites. The CDC echoes what Jones and Wilson say are contributing factors, such as access to pools or choosing to participate in water-related recreational activities.

And when it comes to small children the CDC says it's the leading cause of death in children ages one to four.

"Water is sparkly, it's fun. Children are curious, naturally they're going to explore the world around them and if there isn't a gate or barrier they might have access to the pool," said Stookey.

That's why it's important to teach even the smallest of children how to swim because it's a lesson that will last them a lifetime.

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