Alaska drowning deaths are more than seven times higher per capita than anywhere else in the nation, according to a 2014 report by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

In 2016, DHSS said drowning was the leading cause of unintentional injury death in children up to 9-years-old.

At one time, the Anchorage School District offered swim classes at high schools equipped with swimming pools. The classes were electives but the program ended because of budget cuts, according to school board member Andy Holleman.

“The district dropped swimming as a P.E. class, as an elective, due to the fact it was the most expensive class we taught,” Holleman said. “We have to rent the pool space from the city, that made the annual cost of it quite high.”

At a joint meeting with the school board and Anchorage Assembly, Holleman asked the assembly if they would consider helping ASD to bring back the program.

Anchorage School Board president Starr Marsett says many students do not know how to swim.

“This would be an opportunity for our students to take a swimming class in school and not have to pay for it," she said. "And learn the skill of swimming, and hopefully help them to be safe throughout the summers in Alaska."

The school board is asking the assembly to waive some of the fees associated with the pools located inside the high schools.

Assembly members agreed to take a look at a possible arrangement. The Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department oversees the pools, takes care of all the maintenance and lifeguards.

Holleman says the swimming program would help families who would otherwise not be able to afford lessons for their children.

“For a large portion of our kids who don’t take vacations to warm places, whose parents don’t swim or don’t make trips to the pool or beach, this is a huge thing for them,” he said. “They will never learn this unless we teach them in K-12.”

Right now, it will be up to the municipality to decide and figure out how much it would cost, what discounts to offer ASD and how to supply enough lifeguards and classes to efficiently bring swim classes back to the district. 

 

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