The YMCA offers a free course, Safety Around Water, each summer to help people of all ages, especially children, to learn basic swimming skills and water safety practices. COURTESY YMCA


Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4, and the second-leading cause of death for children ages 5-14, according to the Centers for Disease Control. New Jersey is ranked seventh in the highest number of summer drownings of children under age 15. Last year, tragedy struck Montclair when a child drowned in a backyard pool on the Fourth of July.

With the opening of Montclair’s 11 community pools and its hundreds of residential pools right around the corner, child welfare experts are reminding parents that their children should begin learning to swim by age 1.

Although it’s never too late to learn how to swim, experts say, the younger children learn, the better.

The YMCA has provided swim lessons and water safety courses in the greater Montclair community for almost 100 years. This year, however, for the first time, the Y will not require membership for swim lessons.

“Swim lessons and water safety are our mission, our specialty,” said Buddy Evans, president and CEO of the YMCA of Montclair. “Even one death in this community is too much. With beach and pool season fast approaching we want to give every child a chance to learn to swim.”

Lessons begin April 29 for children as young as six months.

“The earlier you start children, the more comfortable they will be around water,” said Tammy Como, the YMCA’s new aquatics director.

In 2018, the Y offered scholarships to 95 individuals of all ages, totaling $16,400. No child is turned away from swim lessons for the inability to pay, Evans said.

No child is turned away from the Y for an inability to pay for swim lessons.

The Y also offers a free course, Safety Around Water, each summer to help people of all ages, especially children, to learn basic swimming skills and water safety practices. Through the program, 150 children and adults participated in 2018. The five-day program will be offered again June 24-28 at both YMCA of Montclair locations.

Children learn two basic skills: how to get to safety if they fall into a pool, and how to safely swim to safety without tiring. There is a registration fee for the program.

Initiated in 2017, four-year-olds from the Montclair Child Development Center Head Start program are offered free swim lessons. In 2018 approximately 50 children took advantage of the program.

The Y also holds the Mission Swim Possible special needs program for children of all abilities with special needs aged 3-6.

“We have also been speaking with the school districts in our community about ways to work water safety into their curriculums,” said Gretchen Godwin, Director of marketing for the YMCA of Montclair.

To apply for a scholarship, download the form from the YMCA website,, and attach a copy of last year’s 1040 Income Tax return, W-2 Form and two current pay stubs. Children must be listed as a dependent on your income tax return. Proof of residency is required. If unemployed or receiving assistance, documentation and proof of monthly amount received should be included in the application.

The YMCA is also in the midst of its annual fundraising event. Residents can help another child learn to swim by giving to the scholarship fund.

“Every dollar you invest in the Y is an investment in your community,” said Evans.

As the summer months approach, it’s time to teach kids to swim and for parents to refresh their own knowledge about water safety.

“Many of the deaths occur when children are not expected to be swimming or when they have unanticipated access to water,” said Sarah Denny, MD, lead author of the new policy statement, “Prevention of Drowning” published online March 15 through the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The second age group at highest risk of drowning deaths is teens, said Denny.

“Adolescents can be overconfident in their swimming abilities and are more likely to combine alcohol use with swimming, compounding their risk significantly,” Denny said. “Children of color, especially African American teens, are especially at risk.”

Even the best swim lessons cannot “drown-proof” a child, and toddlers are naturally curious, that’s why surrounding pools with fencing and fence gate locks are a must, according to Denny.

Jaimie is an award-winning journalist and editor.