teacher Jonathan Strauss has always loved swimming, but some
of his students havenít had a positive experience in the
32, is a director at Swim Gym, his familyís 31-year-old
for-profit aquatic education school in Miami-Dade County.
There, he coordinates events such as the recent Swim Miami
Beach, a one-mile open-swim competition and fundraiser that
brought together about 300 athletes and swimmers recently in
charted choppy waves and strong currents to raise money for
Swim Gymís foundation, H2Os Helping Others To Swim, which
teaches children ages 3 to 8 from low-income households how to
swim for free. Swim Gym normally charges $20 for a 40-minute
first you have to pull them in," Strauss said. "But
the longer they are in the water you see their faces change
from sheer terror to joy."
Florida had the highest drowning rate in the nation for the 1-
to 4-year-old age group.
offers safe-swimming classes at three locations: Miami Beach
Jewish Community Center, Dave & Mary Alper Jewish
Community Center in Kendall and Michael-Ann Russell Jewish
Community Center in Aventura. Strauss said he must reach
children from all communities to accomplish Swim Gymís goal
ó to reduce accidental drownings throughout South Florida.
$200 a year and 200 hours of water time to teach most children
to become fully waterproof, so that if they fall into a body
of water they can safely get themselves out, Strauss said.
fundraising, the schoolís greatest challenge is finding
transportation for the kids to get to swim class, said
Jonathanís mother, Jennie, who founded the school with her
husband, Robert Strauss, a former Olympic swimmer for the
we have the funds we struggle to get the kids to come in. Some
parents canít afford to bring their kids and not all
communities have public pools for us to go to them,"
Jennie Strauss said.
said he is on a mission to make people understand that
swimming is an essential skill to learn in Florida because the
state is surrounded by water.
Broward County, day care centers, charter schools and public
schools partner with swim schools through the Swim Central
program. Children are bused to swim schools and given free
water-safety classes for 30 minutes over a two-week period.
The program, which began in 1999, has taught more than 446,000
children from 180 elementary schools, according to the
wishes Miami-Dade County Public Schools had a similar program.
"In order to make this happen, we need the communities to
talk to their officials," he said.
County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces has a summer
Learn-to-Swim program for youngsters 2 and up, according to
encourages churches, sports teams, schools and other groups
with children who cannot swim to contact Swim Gym to set up
said he hopes that more youngsters learn how to swim and
develop a positive, safer relationship with water.
am absolutely stoked when the kids learn to swim,"
Strauss said. "Itís an ultimate euphoria to see these