They're having fun. They're trying out new skills that might someday lead to summer jobs or participation in high-school sports. But the most important thing the young kids at the Martin Luther King Jr. Complex in Atlantic City are doing is becoming water-safe.
A new program at the complex is offering free swimming lessons this summer to students in the city's school district. Many of the students, the youngest of whom are entering the third grade, start off frightened. They end up being swimmers.
More than 175 students, from Atlantic City and sending districts Brigantine, Ventnor, Margate and Longport, are enrolled in the program. It is an extension of swimming programs already offered by the district, including swim classes for fourth-graders during the school year.
The school district has long recognized that it is essential for children in shore communities - which are surrounded by water - to learn to swim. And it is especially important for minorities.
A study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis found that 70 percent of black children and 60 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim. That sad statistic leads to a tragic one - black children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than white children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unfamiliarity with and fear of water can be passed from generation to generation. Children of parents who don't know how to swim have only a 13 percent chance of learning to swim themselves.
If you're one of those parents, the best time to make sure your children know how to swim is now. More than 20 percent of drowning victims nationwide are children younger than 14.
You can find swimming lessons near you by calling the American Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767.
Some of the students taking their first tentative strokes in the MLK Complex pool may go on to participate in the high-school swimming and diving programs. Some may eventually get Red Cross certification and be able to find jobs as lifeguards or swimming instructors.
But they are all learning something more than the freestyle stroke or the scissor kick. They are learning how to protect themselves from drowning. And they're learning what they can accomplish if they face their fears.