For many aquatics professionals, schools are the equivalent of a gold mine they can never quite reach: All those eager young students who could well become a new generation of swimmers are stuck behind walls of red tape, budget questions and turf battles.

In the face of such obstacles, most pool operators have simply given up rather than try to develop on- or off-campus swim programs or even make aquatics part of the regular curriculum.

That’s too bad because schools really are an untapped vein of swimmers.

Approximately 25 percent of public and private high schools already have swimming pools, according to PK Data, a statistical research center in Duluth, Ga., and Aquatics International’s own research. No good data exists on the percentage of schools that offer structured aquatics programs outside of competitive teams. But it’s a good bet the percentage is far less.

Compared with other countries such as the United Kingdom, which mandate swimming, U.S. schools barely require physical education, let alone swim lessons. With budget crunches, many schools are cutting PE altogether, including aquatics. As a result, an increasing number of children don’t know how to swim, which means a lost generation for aquatics facilities.

But savvy aquatics directors inside and outside school systems are using a number of methods — from lobbying education boards to linking swimming with saving lives — to tap this vital resource. And they don’t have to do it alone. A variety of aquatics agencies are ready to help set up swim lessons that will turn out healthy students and create a new generation of swimmers.

This special field report looks at programs that have worked and why. It also offers tips and strategies for partnering with schools in your community — and striking gold.