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Phoenix acquatics department uses affirmative action program for lifeguards

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2013

In an effort to diversify its ranks, the Phoenix aquatics department has spent over $15,000 in the past two years training and certifying minority lifeguards.

The city's Melissa Boyle tells students she's not even looking for strong swimmers to enter the program, as long as they aren't white.

"We will work with you in your swimming abilities," she said, according to NPR. "The kids in the pool are all either Hispanic or black or whatever, and every lifeguard is white, and we don't like that. The kids don't relate; there's language issues."

"Do you speak Spanish?" she asked a Latina student next to her. "We need more lifeguards who can speak Spanish."

Two years ago, Becky Hulett, who oversees Phoenix's public pools, began rethinking lifeguard recruitment. Traditionally, Phoenix's 500 lifeguards came from more affluent parts of town further away from public pools, NPR reports.

"It really populated from schools that had swim teams, and so that was our feeder into our lifeguarding programs," she said.

NPR's Jude Joffe-Block observed that as the teens swam laps at Alhambra school, it was clear many hadn't had much formal training.

"Honestly, I have a little bit a fear of the water, and I wanted to overcome that fear," says high school junior Jesus Jimenez.

The city raised about $15,000 in scholarships in the past two years to offset the cost of lifeguard-certification courses. Recruits will have to pass a swim test at the end of the course in order to apply for a lifeguarding position with the city.

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