Kids & Family

Teen Starts Program to Teach High School Students How to Swim

When she found out how many of her peers never learned how to swim, she knew she had to act.


When junior Sylvie Goldner found out that students at her prestigious high school in Manhattan didn't know how to swim, she was shocked. It was even more surprising when she learned that 72% of NYC public high school students lack basic swimming skills.

Goldner, who is a competitive swimmer, has always been comfortable in the water. She started taking swim lessons in the second grade and was a life guard for many years. Now, she has a new goal: giving free lessons to high school students to teach them basic water safety skills.

After teaching a few lessons to friends at her high school, Goldner was inspired to create "First Strokes," an after-school program to help NYC school students learn how to swim. She knows that taking classes with toddlers and small children can be embarrassing for older kids, so she wanted to offer a safe space where her peers could feel comfortable in the water.

All lessons are taught by lifeguard-certified high school students, and while Goldner doesn't have any real teaching experience, she has plenty of knowledge from her time as a life guard.

"I did get a book all about how to teach swim lessons, but just being in the water every day, it comes super easily," she told Today.

Goldner knows that minority and low income students are often the ones that need the lessons most. According to a 2008 survey from USA Swimming, Black and Hispanic children are much less likely to know how to swim than white children.

"I go to a super diverse public school and a lot of the kids, their parents are immigrants and they've never learned how to swim, so they never teach their kids how to swim and this fear is passed down," Goldner said.

Goldner's hoping First Strokes will help these students to overcome their fears and teach them how to be safe in the water. She mentioned a recent success story of a student who previously couldn't swim in the lake at a camp he went to each year who recently got to jump in with his friends for the first time.

Earlier this year, Goldner started a fundraiser to raise money to pay for lane space at a local fitness center and to pay for caps and goggles for her students. She's hoping to expand First Strokes to offer daily lessons in more locations, but for now she's teaching one class per week. Her goal is to raise $50,000 to grow the program.

While Goldner has a long way to go in teaching all high school students in New York City how to swim, she's happy to start somewhere. As she says in her fundraising video, "it's never too late to take your first strokes."

You can donate to the First Strokes fundraising campaign by clicking here.

(Source: images and video First Strokes Facebook)

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