The Pine Bluff Aquatics Center has been open for a little more than a month, and director T.R. Santos is already heralding the new facility as a success.

“Five weeks out from our opening, we are running really well,” he said. “We have been very efficient in getting people registered. The pools have been crystal clear. It’s been really nice to have that.”

Santos said that all systems are “working well” at the facility and that there have been little or no growing pains.

“The big surprise for us has been the number of adults who have interest in swim lessons,” Santos said. “That is exciting to hear. When I was at Russellville, we would only give three or so adult swim lessons the entire time I was there in three years.”

Santos said that swimming lessons will begin sometime after Labor Day and will cost $40 for eight sessions for aquatics center members and $50 for nonmembers. On Monday, the Pine Bluff City Council will consider whether to waive all lesson fees for residents 18 and under.

Pine Bluff resident Sara Shaw said that she wants her young son to learn how to swim but doesn’t have the extra money to join the aquatics center. She said the free lessons would be a godsend.

“I think they should be free for kids,” Shaw said. “Pine Bluff has a lot of people who live day-to-day money-wise, so it’s important to offer things that kids can do that don’t cost much.”

According to the national YMCA website, a recent national study conducted at Ys by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis found that 64% of black/African-American children cannot swim; 45% of Hispanic children cannot swim; and 40% of Caucasian children cannot swim.

“Equally concerning, 87% of non-swimmer youth plan to visit a beach or pool at least once during the summer months, and 34% plan to go swimming at least 10 times,” the website said.

Additionally, the YMCA said there are cultural and historical factors that explain why children of color are at a higher risk for drowning:

• Increased privatization of swimming lessons and pools as well as a history of exclusion set the context for today’s low participation rates in swim lessons. A painful legacy of racial segregation and violent strife surrounds the history of municipal swimming pools. This legacy helped to erect high barriers to swimming participation that remain in place today.

• A lack of representation in professional swim sports and false beliefs surrounding people of color and swimming have also lead to restricted performance and limited participation.

• The USA Swimming Foundation study shows that if a parent does not know how to swim, there is only a 13% chance that their child will learn how to swim. When adult role models fear water, or have been negatively impacted by the above experiences, their comfort level with swimming is passed down to younger generations.

“Swimming is a life skill, much like riding a bicycle, fishing or building an appreciation for the outdoors. Yet, unlike recreational hobbies, being a strong swimmer is also a life-saving skill that all children should have access to develop,” according to the YMCA.

“When a parent doesn’t endorse swimming—or actively discourages a child from participating in swimming—this life-threatening cycle continues. It requires intentional effort on the part of swim facilities and youth programs to disrupt the pervasive and persistent narrative in Black/African-American communities that water is dangerous and swim lessons are not accessible.

“This belief prevents many parents of color from introducing swim lessons and water safety to their children. Yet, formal swim lessons have proven to reduce the risk of drowning by 88% among children ages 1-4. While starting young is recommended, it is never too late to learn to swim. Many Ys across the country offer adult swim lessons in addition to youth swim lessons.”

Back at the aquatics center in Pine Bluff, it will be Monday before exact attendance numbers will be available; however, Santos said that “during the late afternoon and evenings, we get filled up. And, in the mornings, it’s fun to see people in the competition water walking and exercising. We are planning four swim meets over the next five-to-six months, so we are busy.”

Santos said the center will soon receive a monitor that will allow for digital timing of competitions, as well as advertising and the showing of films.

“We are working on having a family movie night, where we will be half-price,” Santos said. “It will bring a lot of people to the aquatics center who have never been here.”

The Pine Bluff Aquatics Center is located at 400 E. 11th Avenue. Details: Call (870) 850-7620, e-mail or visit of