Massachusetts’ free swimming lessons program opened Monday in pools across the state.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation’s “Learn to Swim” program, which occurs annually, is available to people older than 4 years old from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The program will continue through Aug. 13.
The free classes are 30 minutes long and are open to attendees for three two-week sessions. People are directed to contact Debra.Jimenez@mass.gov if they’re interested in signing up for a session.
The full list of participating pools is below. These locations may change, according to the department’s website.
- Gerald J. Mason Memorial Swimming Pool, Agawam
- John H. Thomas Memorial Swimming Pool, Springfield
- Philip J. Weihn Memorial Swimming Pool, Clinton
- Sen. P. Eugene Casey Memorial Swimming Pool, Milford
- Melnea A. Cass Memorial Swimming Pool and Spray Deck, Boston
- Clarence W. Dealtry Memorial Swimming Pool, Watertown
- Veterans Memorial Swimming Pool at Magazine Beach, Cambridge
- Reilly Memorial Swimming Pool, Brighton
The “Learn to Swim” program has been running for over a decade, but the department has seen a “high volume of interest” this summer, according to a DCR spokesperson.
The spokesperson also noted that the department increased outreach for the program this season.
Katherine Paltz, the manager of the Gerald J. Mason Memorial Swimming Pool in Agawam, said the pool was “very lucky” to have the chance to run the program this summer after it was canceled last summer during the pandemic.
She said the pool has been getting “a bunch of phone calls” about the lessons, especially with all the recent drownings in the state.
“It’s very important that we get all these kids to learn how to swim so ... they can be comfortable around the water,” Paltz said.
Massachusetts has, in the past two months, seen a tragic string of drownings in the state. Most recently, on Thursday, 19-year-old Joao Alves Teixeira of Boston drowned off Castle Island in South Boston while swimming with his brother. On Tuesday, a man drowned in Scituate near the Edward Foster Bridge. These incidents were preceded by a series of tragedies in June, including the death of a Worcester police officer who drowned trying to save a teenage boy.
Eighteen drownings occurred this May in Massachusetts, more than during the past three Mays combined.
Water safety specialists attributed the spate of incidents to a number of factors, including warm weather, the end of the pandemic, a shortage of lifeguards, and a dearth of swimming lessons.
Drownings also do not impact all people equally. The drowning death rates are 3.6 times higher for Black children ages 10-14 compared to white children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another study found that nearly 80 percent of children from families with a household income of less than $50,000 had no or low swimming ability.
In an effort to combat these accidents, the state on Friday proposed increasing fines for swimming in restricted areas and banning open water swimming at Walden Pond. If the proposed legislation is passed, fines for swimming in restricted areas could rise up to $500.
Critics, who range from lawmakers to swimmers themselves, say the new rules may not be effective or enforceable.
State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven, a Democrat from Somerville, previously told the Globe that the drownings “require a serious policy solution.”
“Just saying, ‘You can’t swim here’ does not actually solve the problem,” she said, after hearing from constituents who were upset about the restrictions at Walden Pond.
So far, the state has responded to this criticism by offering free swimming lessons and adopting other measures, such as better signage at state parks, higher pay for state-employed lifeguards, and extended hours at spray decks.
Alexandra Chaidez can be reached at email@example.com.