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Pilot program in NYC teaches kids to swim

Tollyne "Goldie" Dickerson belongs to an aquatic family whose joy for swimming has been passed on to a fourth generation -- 6-year-old granddaughter Summer.

"This is a big deal," said Dickerson, holding onto her granddaughter's towel. The girl eagerly waited to get back into the pool Tuesday at Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx.

"I love going back in the water and splash and practice again and again," said Summer, who was begging to get back into the pool after taking her first free swimming lesson. "I'm ready to do it again."

"Water and sun is part of my family," Dickerson said. "My parents were swimmers. My brother was a lifeguard. I grew up swimming at Highbridge pool in Washington Heights.

"It's the coolest place to grow up in," Dickerson said. She added that her son Divinoni Hamlin Jr., 26, learned to swim at Roberto Clemente pool and later became a lifeguard there. He even went to California to work as a lifeguard, she said.

Open enrollment to learn how to swim for free was launched at the Bronx pool and the Riverbank State Park in Manhattan last week.

The pilot program is expected to teach more than 500 kids how to swim this summer. If successful, it will be expanded to public pools on Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley next year, said Michael de Vulpillieres, Red Cross spokesman.

The Red Cross and the National Swimming Pool Foundation are providing safety swim instructors to teach the six-week program, which runs through Aug. 16. Morning and evening classes are available, and children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian to sign up.

Dickerson said learning to swim in cool pool water is a skill that teaches responsible behavior. "You develop a respect for water and it gives full body exercise."

A veteran public middle school teacher and dean, Dickerson shares her family tradition with her students. "Every year at the end of summer school I bring my students here. My treat."

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