Swimming lessons demand grows along with need for lifeguards at city pools

Before Dustin Moore could answer when their niece, Ava Terry, learned how to swim, the question was answered by none other than the toddler herself.

"I go to swim when I was a baby," Terry said. "Yep, 4 months old," her uncle confirmed.

In a family that's often by the water, Moore said it's important she knew how to swim.

"Not only is it part of human nature survival instinct, but it's also just good to have especially for summer months when it gets hot," Moore said.

But as it gets hot in the summer, so does the demand for swim lessons. However, it's not as easy to find as families would hope.

"Please HELP!!" one parent asked on Facebook. "I am desperately looking for a pool for my nieces and kids to swim in today! We have been to 3 public pools and they are all closed due to shortage in staff."

The City of Raleigh has 85 lifeguards on staff and hired 45 in 2022, according to the council meeting on Tuesday.

The city said hiring lifeguards was a challenge before 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated that.

Without enough lifeguards to operate the city's eight pools, the staffing shortage also includes instructors.

"The people that are really taking the hit is that we are not able to provide as much instructional availability," the city said.

Raleigh Aquatics' "Learn to Swim" programs will be scheduled pending instructor availability, according to the city.

But as families head to the swimming pools, some are met with closed signs. Ridge Road Pool was closed on Friday but the city said Longview seasonal pool opened in the afternoon.

"Biltmore Hills and Longview seasonal pools will operate Friday-Sunday rotating with one facility open each weekend," the city said. "Longview opened at 2pm today. We *hope* to open both next weekend."

Millbrook, Optimist and Pullen are year-round and continue to operate daily. But seasonal amenities will be open as staffing levels allow, according to the city.

Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center is open to the public for lessons and recreational swimming, but for families who are still searching for swim lessons, the American Academy of Pediatrics said there's other layers of protection they can focus on.

"If you're doing your best to try and find swim lessons and it's just not gonna happen, then focusing on the best possible supervision you can do," Ben Hoffman said. "Maybe that's a situation where for this summer, you might need to use a coast-guard approved flotation device more often."

Hoffman added having an adult in the water within arm's reach of a child who's not confident in the water is an example of maximizing a layer of protection.

"Very frequently, what tragically happens is a child silently goes under water, and within a very short period of time, it's too late," Hoffman said. "And so going back to those layers of protection, looking at your situation, your family, your child, where you're around water, and coming up with what your water safety plan is going to be."
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