No Funding for Second Grade Swim Program for Second Year in Row

The privately funded “Wave Makers” program began in June, attempting to restore swimming lessons to second graders after Adams slashed the City Council’s public initiative in the same vein last fall.

| 03 Jul 2024 | 01:53

Public youth swimming lessons across the city have been in shambles since before the pandemic. In September 2023, it seemed NYC Council Member Julie Menin finally had a solution to years of shoddy programming and resources.

Menin sponsored a bill in September mandating the Parks Dept. to provide free swimming lessons to all 70,000+ second graders throughout public schools, under the impression that city funds would be properly allocated to the new initiative. But despite an increase in the city’s overall budget, and the restoration of funds for museums and libraries, the second grade swim program appears to have been shout out again.

The program had the potential to amend the long-neglected Learn to Swim program that many public pools haven’t offered since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

When Mayor Eric Adams announced a series of budget cuts in November 2023 to try to close what he said was a $7.1 billion budget gap, the second-grade swimming program was in the line of fire. The $5.2 million originally allocated for the initiative was cut. And according to the city budget as of July 2024, the Parks Department at large will receive $20 million less in funding than last year, despite the newly agreed upon city budget growing by $5 billion to $112 billion in the new fiscal year that started July 1.

Menin’s solution to these disappointments in the public realm was to turn to private funding. In January, Menin and NYC Council Member Shekar Krishnan announced a public-private partnership between the City Council, Asphalt Green, and the Gray Foundation–a nonprofit that aims to expand education for the city’s low-income youth, founded by Jon Gray, the president of investment firm Blackstone.

“In response to the Mayor’s budget cuts, we took swift action to launch the Wave Makers Program, in partnership with Council Member Krishnan and The Gray Foundation, ensuring that New York’s children, particularly those in underserved communities, don’t miss out on lifesaving swim lessons,” Menin told Straus News.

The Wave Makers program will provide free swimming lessons for up to 2,000 second-graders with a $1.5 million budget. It is operated by Asphalt Green and will employ pools in all five boroughs. The program began in June.

While teaching 2,000 kids how to swim is better than none, there are over 70,000 second-graders throughout NYC, a figure much more achievable for a program funded by the city.

“Swimming isn’t just a skill–it’s a matter of public safety and equity for our city’s youth,” said Menin.

“By closely monitoring the success of this pilot program, we can demonstrate to the City of New York the most effective and efficient pathways to implementing large-scale free swim instruction for children across the city, in line with my bill for free swimming lessons,” Menin told Straus News.

Hopefully, there is room in next year’s budget for a bill similar to Menin’s previously rejected one that could reach more of the city’s youth, although that may be unlikely with an underfunded Parks Department. An aide to Mayor Adams insisted at a press availability on July 2 that the youth Learn to Swim program was operational “in all five boroughs” this summer. But in reality, there is only one public pool in Manhattan that will be able to offer swimming lessons for kids this summer: the Hamilton Fish pool on the Lower East Side.

Despite public frugality for youth swimming programs, the city seems to have trouble finding money to put up new pickelboard courts. Courts have opened up on Manhattan’s West Side, in Carl Schurz Park, and soon–with the help of the Parks Department–under the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo.

And Adams did recently unveil a five year, $1 billion major capitol program to repair and rebuild many of the city’s aging swimming pools. Hopefully, that includes repairs to the Tony Dapolito outdoor pool on Clarkson St. in Greenwich Village. Although the Parks Dept. web site says the pool is “temporarily closed,” in reality it has been closed since 2019.