LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
If you're a kid at home this summer trying to stay cool, nothing beats jumping into a pool. But for some children that pool can be a dangerous place. Drowning rates at swimming pools among school-age African-American children are more than five times the rate of white kids the same age. One community in South Miami is doing something about that. Wilson Sayre of member station WLRN has the story.
WILSON SAYRE, BYLINE: It's hot out. The usual midday thunderstorm has just passed and the few kids hanging out on the bleachers around the pool at Ransom Everglades School finally get the go-ahead to jump in and cool off.
(CHILDREN SPLASHING IN POOL)
SAYRE: Eight-year-old Gary Kendrick and the others are all here for swimming lessons.
GARY KENDRICK: They told us to hold on the wall and kick our feet and move our arms.
SAYRE: Gary says before he knew it, he was swimming on his own.
KENDRICK: Then when I had to swim to one of the counselors, I was really swimming. I didn't even know I was moving.
SAYRE: He doesn't have the technique of an Olympic swimmer. But Gary can make it to the side of the pool if he's pushed, falls in or just wants to cool off and he has fun playing Marco Polo. He's one of a few kids from South Miami to get free swim lessons at Ransom Everglades, a private school with an Olympic size swimming pool. The kids all over the age of 8, all black, are bused over from South Miami's community center one afternoon a week.
JULIE GILCHRIST: You know, we have populations of people who lack basic swim skills.
SAYRE: Julie Gilchrist is a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And she's spent much of her career researching child drownings.
GILCHRIST: In swimming pools, you know, presumably you know where the bottom is, you know where the sides are and so one would think basic swimming skills it should be difficult for an older child or teen to drown in a swimming pool and yet that's what we were seeing, particularly among African-Americans.
SIMON CODRINGTON JR: Kids who are living in public housing, growing up where finance is a real problem, single mother households, the opportunities just having access to a pool are limited.
SAYRE: Simon Codrington Jr. is on the South Miami Community Advisory Committee and he's an advocate for the large black community there. Codrington says low-income black kids simply aren't getting the opportunity to learn basic swimming skills. The closest public pool is three miles away and Codrington says that's just too far.
CODRINGTON JR: A single mother who relies on public transportation to get around, 9 times out of 10, she's not making a whole, you know, a lot of trips.
SAYRE: So Codrington's long been trying to get a pool built and after four decades he's finally getting one. The site of the new pool is in the heart of South Miami. They've pour the concrete but everything else is just mud. Workers dart around in the mid-afternoon drizzle.
CODRINGTON JR: This is the pool, that's coming up out of the ground, you know, right before your face. Now let me show you something right offhand.
SAYRE: Codrington points out that this pool will be smaller than the one at Ransom Everglades where Gary Kendrick is learning to swim. It will have fewer lap lanes and will be a lot shallower.
CODRINGTON JR: For me it's a mixed bag.
SAYRE: He wishes the new pool were bigger to accommodate things like swim meets and lifeguarding lessons. But he's satisfied knowing it will be a place where neighborhood kids can learn how to swim.
CODRINGTON JR: This is going to save a lot of lives just as it is. It's going to save a lot of children from drowning.
SAYRE: The new pool in South Miami is set to open by the time school's out next summer. For NPR News, I'm Wilson Sayre in Miami.