UNCW Learn to Swim Program Offering Free Lessons to D.C. Virgo Students

Monday, June 07, 2021

Twenty-four students from D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy will get two weeks of free swimming lessons as part of a pilot program that aspires to build swimming into the public school curriculum. The UNCW Learn to Swim program is being offered thanks to a partnership involving UNCW Athletics, the Chancellor’s Office, the Office of Community Engagement and Applied Learning, and other campus and community partners.
The program is an outgrowth of research conducted by UNCW staff member and alumna Ann Freeman ’08, ’17M for her Master of Public Administration degree. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Black Americans and other racial minorities had the highest rate of drowning in the nation, and Black children and teenagers are 5.5 times more likely to drown than their white counterparts.
Freeman, the program coordinator, translated her research into a pilot swim program in 2019.
“We are trying to show how we could build this into the curriculum of the public schools,” said Freeman, who serves as assistant secretary to the UNCW Board of Trustees. “That’s my overall dream for the whole program.”
This year, 24 students from D.C. Virgo, ages 8-13, will be taught by UNCW Swimming and Diving Head Coach Bobby Guntoro and his team of instructors. The first session runs from June 7-18 and the second from June 21-July 2 at the Earl Jackson Pool on Wilmington’s Northside. NSea Swim, which promotes swimming inclusion and offers free lessons at the city-owned pool, is a community partner in the effort. The City of Wilmington also supports the Learn to Swim program as a community partner.
Freeman’s passion for the program is personal as well as professional. A nephew drowned the day she presented her research.
“The need is clear,” Freeman said. Although this year’s program could accommodate only 24 students, more than 60 families expressed interest.
The recommendation to incorporate swimming lessons into the New Hanover County Schools curriculum was the third of three recommendations that emerged from Freeman’s research project. The first was to develop a Learn to Swim campaign to increase awareness of the importance of learning to swim, and the second was to build community partnerships to provide funding and facility support to make swim instruction more accessible to underrepresented communities.
“All of our off-campus and on-campus partners made this summer program possible,” said Jeanine Mingé, associate vice chancellor for community engagement and applied learning. “We want to see it grow. All children should know how to swim. It is not a leisure activity or solely an athletic opportunity – swimming is a lifesaving skill.”
Community engagement is among the key foundations of UNCW’s Strategic Plan.
The program doesn’t stop with swimming. On July 7, after the program concludes, all 24 students will tour the UNCW campus, be treated to lunch in the Golden Hawk Room and will have the opportunity to participate in a MarineQuest activity. They will also be able to explore labs in the College of Health and Human Services and watch a swim relay in the natatorium. The idea is to help the students envision themselves attending UNCW or some other institution of higher education.
Other campus partners for the program include Business Affairs, the Center for Marine Science; MarineQuest; CHHS; the Watson College of Education and the Admissions Office.
-- Tricia Vance

Child in goggles smiles at his instructor in the pool.
The UNCW Learn to Swim Program is providing free lessons for students of D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, which is operated by UNCW. Pictured: Swimming and Diving Head Coach Bobby Guntoro shows a young swimmer how to use a kickboard.