“I learned to swim when somebody threw me off a boat,” said James Soberstein, 17, who doesn’t consider himself a strong swimmer.
Jesslyn Thorpe, 17, contends lessons aren’t necessary.
“It comes natural. You get in the water and you see everybody else do it and you just swim,” she said. “If you want to swim, you just do it.”
Lakes, ponds, rivers and Lake Michigan and its bays serve as swimming magnets, but ample water bodies aren’t the root of the drowning problem, Van Deinse said. Instead, the area lacks facilities to ensure children have a chance to learn how to swim.
Most northern Michigan schools, unlike many downstate counterparts, don’t have swimming pools or teach swimming.
“We couldn’t afford one if you built it for us,” said Keith Smith, Kingsley Area Schools’ superintendent.
Pools are expensive to operate and it’s difficult for northern Michigan districts such as Traverse City Area Public School that survive on the state’s base foundation grant to fund a pool, said Paul Soma, TCAPS’ chief financial officer and chief operations officer.
Soma previously worked at Walled Lake Consolidated School District, which had a pool in each of its three high schools. But the downstate district annually receives $19 million to $20 million more in state education funding, Soma said.
TCAPS also doesn’t make use of the Grand Traverse County Civic Center pool for swim instruction, other than for special education students, said Jayne Mohr, a district associate superintendent.
The major reasons: cost and time, Mohr said. Transportation, plus changing time at the pool, would consume significant instructional time.
Kingsley ran a regular learn-to-swim program at the Civic Center pool, but dropped the program this year because of budget restraints.
“I would agree it’s a great thing to teach all kids to swim, but it’s competing against the ability to purchase materials for the classroom,” Smith said