Thanks to a Hampton Roads Red Cross grant, Hampton University is offering swim lessons to Newport News and Hampton middle school students this summer. HU lifeguards and Red Cross water safety instructors are teaching the lessons, and bathing suit attire is provided for students.

The lessons are part of HU’s effort to involve and mobilize the minority community about water safety.

“HU is reaching out to the community through partnerships so that minorities will have the opportunity to be exposed to water safety and structured swim lessons,” said Jodi Jensen, HU assistant professor and director of aquatics.

The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is 3.2 times that of white children in the same age range, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also states factors such as physical environment, like access to swimming pools, and a combination of social and cultural issues, like valuing swimming skills and choosing recreational water-related activities, may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates.

In Fall 2008, HU became the second historically black college or university to offer a concentration in aquatics. Alabama A&M University is the other. At HU, aquatics is offered through the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. The summer lessons, in HU’s Olympic sized pool in Holland Hall, fortify the program’s purpose.

“It reinforces [our] goal by not only offering aquatic opportunities to college students at HU,” Jensen said, “but also to the community.”