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One Bushwick School Has An Answer to the City's Lifeguard Shortage

A Bushwick high school is coaxing teenagers into a long-neglected pool, turning non-swimmers into competitors and possibly even lifeguards.
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Bushwick Educational Campus. Photo: Google Maps.

Bushwick Educational Campus has reopened its long-neglected pool in an effort to turn non-swimmers into competitors, reports The New York Times. The school formerly known as Bushwick High School now consists of four smaller Brooklyn high schools and is home to one of the very few functional pools in city public schools.

Bushwick High’s boys swimming team once was an unlikely swimming powerhouse and a main feeder for the city’s lifeguard system through the 1990s. Then the school divided and since then the pool has been underused by students much to the disappointment of school administration.

“Some of our own students didn’t even know we had a pool here,” said Jorge Sandoval, the principal at one of the Bushwick campus schools, the Academy of Urban Planning and Engineering.

Now, Marvin Carbajal, a Bushwick Campus physical education teacher who swam there in the early 1990s, is working with another Bushwick physical education teacher, Alyssa Taylor, to being forming an after-school and Saturday coed swim clubs, mostly for nonswimmers, as part of an effort to reduce inequality among New Yorkers of color when it comes to swimming.

“I don’t know of any club teams in Bushwick,” stated Taylor, a Brooklyn native who learned to swim at a Y.M.C.A. before walking on to Brooklyn College's swim team. “There’s definitely a cultural barrier.”

So Carbajal is using a financial incentive, guaranteeing non-swimmers that they would be able to swim well enough to pass the city’s preliminary lifeguard test, offered every winter. That could mean spending summers making at least $16 an hour and helping with the citywide lifeguard shortage.

Swimmers on the team have gone from non-swimmers to competitors within weeks, despite the reality that most students speak little English, and very few have backgrounds in swimming.

And, despite their rocky start, administrators are hopeful that swimming will give students opportunities regardless of how uncertain the future may be.

"We’re changing the culture and letting kids know they can swim and get a job as lifeguard... We’re starting from scratch,” Carbajal said. “But, our goal is to get back to be one of the best teams in the city.”