Health Department to Expand "Making Waves" Swim Program After Successful Third Year

Making Waves provides free water safety and swim instruction to young people from low-income neighborhoods

More than 1,400 children learned to swim this summer season; next year capacity will expand to serve approximately 9,000 youth

August 29, 2017 — After a successful third year, the Health Department today announced the expansion of its summer swimming program for 6–18 year old kids and youth from low-income neighborhoods around the city. The program, now called Making Waves, provides free water safety and swim instruction to young people participating in Department of Youth and Community Development managed Cornerstone and BEACON camp programs. Making Waves aims to reduce the disproportionate risk of drowning among Black and Latino youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black youth are 1.4 times more likely to drown than White youth in the United States. The program, launched in 2015, takes advantage of pool facilities in public schools that are not used in summer months. Since the start of the program, participation has nearly tripled — from 524 children in 2015 to more than 1,400 this summer season. Next year, the Health Department plans to work with school principals to expand the program from five to 25 pools, increasing enrollment to over 9,000 young people annually. Making Waves will also offer an after-school program at 12 select schools where, in its first year, up to 240 students will have the opportunity to be trained as certified swim instructors and lifeguards.

“Every child should learn to swim, both for safety and for fun. But Black children are less likely to have these skills, and this can have fatal consequences. New York City has a small number of drowning deaths, but they are far more common among Black youth. These are preventable tragedies,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Making Waves seeks to eliminate the gap between Black youth and white youth by giving children the opportunity to learn a skill that may one day save their lives. I thank our sister agencies for their support and for providing the facilities needed for this life-changing program.”

“The Making Waves swimming program provides an opportunity for students across the City to learn critical water safety lessons while also being active during the summer,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “By opening up additional school pools as part of the expansion, more students will be able to take advantage of this training and develop healthy habits at a young age.”

“It’s more than just swimming — the Making Waves program is an important part of water safety that over the past three years has helped our youth gain confidence by trusting themselves in uncomfortable situations,” said Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Bill Chong. “Swimming is a fun and healthy activity that motivates young people to strive for self-improvement by increasing their physical activity. I am happy that through this program, hundreds of youth in low-income communities will continue to learn this lifesaving skill.”

“With our 14 miles of beach and 65 public pools, there’s no doubt that New York City is a swimming town. By expanding Making Waves, our partners at the Health Department are helping to make sure that all New Yorkers are able to safely enjoy the fitness and fun that only swimming can bring,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP.

“The Making Waves program is a great example of how important community programs can be to improve resident quality of life and also teach vital life skills,” said NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye. “Dr. Bassett and her team’s efforts on this critical issue protect New Yorkers, provide peace of mind for parents and allow children an opportunity to safely enjoy their summers in the water.”

“New Yorkers enjoy miles of beaches and beautiful waterfront, but far too many, particularly in underprivileged communities, grow up without learning how to swim. The de Blasio administration has successfully reduced those disparities through the 'Making Waves' program, and it’s great news that it is being expanded significantly next year so that even more kids can benefit,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee.

"Swimming is a critical skill to learn, and during the hot summer months should be a fun, healthy activity for all children regardless of background or socioeconomic status,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. “I commend Health Commissioner Bassett for leading the way in expanding the Making Waves program to cover more schools in Brooklyn. This is an exciting life-saving initiative that also encourages greater physical activity. I encourage as many of our youngest Brooklynites as possible to 'jump into' this wonderful opportunity.”

"The Making Waves program will teach thousands of children of color a valuable skill that could one day save their lives," said New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm. "Swimming is one of the most heart-healthy and low-impact exercises out there. All young people should be equipped with the skills needed to enjoy this fun and healthy activity, including children from low-income families. I fully support Making Waves for providing this wonderful opportunity for under-served youth in our city.”

"The expansion of the Making Waves program will drastically increase the number of children, and children of color in particular, who will learn the benefits of swimming and how fun it can be. It can also potentially save lives. I applaud its expansion," said Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx.

Drowning rates in New York City mirror national trends, showing that Black children have a significantly higher rate of fatal drowning between the ages of five and 18 when compared to White and Latino counterparts. Between 1980 and 2015, 30 percent of drownings among youth less than 15 years of age were Black, 19 percent were Latino, and 8 percent were White. The disparities in swimming among youth of color living in poor neighborhoods is driven by lack of access to pool facilities in those neighborhoods. Health Department surveys of past Making Waves program participants show that children’s fear of drowning, being injured and the lack of access to a swimming facility were the main barriers to learning to swim. Additionally, a long national history of segregated “whites only” pools made swimming seem inaccessible to excluded communities.

Making Waves is a collaboration between the Health Department and the NYC Department of Education (DOE), the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD). The City also teaches swimming through the following programs: NYC Parks’ free Learn to Swim for kids and adults; Adaptive Swim for people with disabilities; and NYC Parks and DOE’s Swim for Life Program for second graders. Together with the expansion of Making Waves, these programs teach swimming to approximately 45,000 New Yorkers annually.

The Health Department encourages all parents of children and young adults that are eligible for Making Waves to enroll through DYCD. For more information about Making Waves, visit



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