A significant number of American children don’t know to swim.

Locally, parents can change that for free.

There is a program in Hartford at the downtown YMCA that’s been flying under the radar.

Knowing how to swim is so critical and that point was underscored by the drowning death of a 16-year-old at the Keney Park pool this summer.

That really hit home for many in Hartford and now they’re taking advantage of a free program that’s been offered for years.

Madyson Virgo is taking the plunge and learning how to swim.

“Just like a teensy bit, I knew how to swim, but not really,” said Virgo.

Wednesday was her first day of free classes at the downtown Hartford YMCA. They’re offered six days a week to any Hartford resident ages 5 to 9.

The first lessons get children comfortable with water. We saw them floating, kicking and starting to work on their stroke.

“I think I’ll be good enough to keep swimming and not worry when I’m floating on my back that I’m sinking,” said Virgo.

The program for Hartford families started three years ago and so far, more than 1,000 children left equipped with the important, potentially life-saving skill that not many have.

“Minorities are more likely to drown. It’s actually statistically five times more likely than their non-minority counterparts,” said Deidre Brickhouse, the YMCA Aquatic Director.

According to the YMCA, nationally, 64 percent of African American, 45 percent of Latino and 40 percent of Caucasian children don’t know how to swim.

The Hartford community still mourns the loss of Jaevon Whyte, who drowned when he and friends went into the Keney Park pool after hours.

Along with knowing how to swim, children at the YMCA learn about how to identify if someone needs help.

“It’s really important that we get this information out and actively learning how to swim and being exposed to water at an early age,” said Brickhouse.

Virgo is taking the lessons learned on for the rest of her life and she wants to help others down the road.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt so I would probably be a lifeguard or swimming teacher,” said Virgo.

The classes will continue for a few more months, but the grants that keep them going are set to expire soon.

If you’d like to donate to help keep the classes going, click here.

To find more information about the swimming classes at the YMCA, you can find the information here.

Copyright 2018 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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