'It's like the Hunger Games': Demand for swimming lessons outpaces available classes
Parents in communities around Edmonton say they’re struggling to get their children into swimming lessons.
“We’re frustrated, we’re annoyed, and a basic life skill is just not available for our kids here in [Strathcona County],” said Amanda Briggs.
The Sherwood Park mom has a six-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter. She says she’s at her computer first thing on swimming lesson registration day to try to get her kids into lessons.
“You’re trying to get the hottest ticket for the hottest concert coming to town.”
“You get one in your shopping cart, and then you look at your shopping cart, and it’s booked. You get another one in your shopping cart, you get to pay, and it’s booked. It’s like the Hunger Games.”
Despite her efforts, Briggs wasn’t able to register for lessons this fall.
“Unless I want to take my kid out of school and do an 11 o'clock class on a Wednesday morning.”
The organization that certifies swimming instructors and lifeguards says there are several factors causing the shortages, including impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of facilities cancelled their lessons when the health restrictions were first announced and they were very slow to get back into reoffering them,” said Kelly Carter of the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories. “There was almost a year where there was no swim instruction taking place, so there’s a lot of catch-up from kids who just need to get back into lessons.”
Carter also noted many lifeguards and instructors move onto other careers, as many of them are in their teens and early 20s. During the pandemic, there was limited training for new lifeguards and instructors to take their place.
But he says there is a lot of interest as things open back up.
“We’re definitely rebounding from where we were during COVID where we saw a lull. And you’ve got to think, we had almost two years… of very few certifications and new instructors coming up.”
Officials with Strathcona County agree with Carter, saying there is a waitlist for swimming programs.
“Pool closures/restrictions during COVID has impacted the timing and accessibility of training and certifying/recertifying staff. With our current instructor availability, we have had to reduce the number of spots we would in a normal swim session,” said Jennifer Moncion a spokesperson for Strathcona County in a written statement.
“We continue to take steps to minimize the staffing shortage impact by continuing to recruit and recertify instructors and maximize teaching spaces. We are rebuilding our daytime school programs as well as offering a variety of lessons formats to create more flexibility.”
Other municipalities say they’re also working to offer more lessons in the face of similar challenges.
Fort Saskatchewan has offered 2,407 individual lesson spots in 2022 to date, compared to 4,880 spots in 2019.
St. Albert says the last year where a typical complement of swim programs was offered was also in 2019.
The City of Edmonton does have some spaces available at its swim programs, but for parents like Briggs, driving to another community isn’t an option.
“That’s something that I’ve considered. Working full time, my partner works full time, being able to come home, pack up my kids, and leave my community to go elsewhere, it’s annoying and it’s not feasible,” she said.
Carter encourages parents not to give up.
“We know learning to swim saves lives. We know that having recreation facilities open saves lives. The safest places to swim are in life-guarded facilities, but it’s important that everyone gets that opportunity to learn,” he said.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jessica Robb.
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