Not so long ago, the ability to swim was considered a valuable skill in America, so valuable, you couldn’t graduate from many colleges without it. Not anymore.

Somewhere along the way, swimming got conflated with overall fitness. One study shows that in 1977, 42 percent of colleges had some kind of swimming requirement for graduation. By 1982, only 8 percent did. After that, researchers didn’t even bother asking about it.

Swimming seems to have seen a similar decline in K-12 education for many of the same reasons. Budgets are tight. Maintaining pools is expensive. Other fitness activities can fill the void.

The only problem is, they can’t.

Jogging around a track, jumping on a trampoline or learning to stretch may improve fitness, but they won’t save a young person’s life. The ability to swim will. That’s especially relevant given that drowning is the No. 2 cause of unintentional death for children age 14 and under in the United States, second only to auto accidents.

You would think such an epidemic would cause schools to act, to teach the very skill that would stop these needless deaths. Such action is happening in Canada, where Ontario’s Ministry of Education just announced a nearly $1 million grant to bring swim lessons to schools. But in the U.S., educational boards seem to be increasingly turning their backs on swimming. It’s time for aquatics professionals to stand up and forcefully remind them that doing so is akin to signing death warrants for any children who find themselves in over their heads. It’s time for all industry members to clearly make the distinction between a lifesaving skill and a fitness activity.

In this issue, we present a road map for doing just that at the K-12 level. Our Field Report presents a number of practical strategies for convincing school boards to make swimming an integral part of school curriculums. It also offers real world examples of pool operators who have found success.

But the most effective argument you can use also is the most obvious: Teaching kids to swim will save lives. It’s hard for anyone to argue with that. If swimming is ever to be valued again in American schools and, by extension, America itself, that’s a good place to begin.

Gary Thill

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Credit: Gary Thill