Finding a place for kids swim lessons is not as easy as you might think. (Classes fill up fast around here!) That said, there are many pools and aquatic centers around town offering both private and group swim lessons for kids from qualified instructors.
By Julia Baker | Photography by John Michael Simpson
“When you walk into Goldfish [Swim School] Chapel Hill, you immediately know it’s made with happiness in mind,” says Danelle Alex, co-owner of the facility. Bright colors are splashed across the walls of the tropical-themed pool area, complete with a palm tree. Danelle and her husband, Manuel Alex, opened the Chapel Hill location of the national franchise in December 2019.
In 2006, Jenny McCuiston, a two-time Olympic trials-qualifying swimmer, and Chris McCuiston founded Goldfish Swim School in response to a growing demand for quality swim instruction. The McCuistons began franchising Goldish three years later, and in 2017, Danelle and Manuel became franchise owners of their first location in Cary.
“Goldfish as a company has a commitment to do the most and very best it can to keep kids safe in and around water,” Danelle says of why she and Manuel were drawn to this swim school. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 14 years old. “Starting swim lessons early on helps children develop a healthy respect for water and learn life-saving skills,” Danelle says. “We incorporate water safety skills and knowledge in every lesson.”
With about 30 instructors on staff, Goldfish offers a 4-to-1 student-teacher ratio during regular group classes and a 6-to-1 ratio during mini classes with parent participation. Classes are held year-round – there is no start or end dates for classes, so students can enroll at any point in the year. Swimmers move through classes based on their individual progress, so they can join a more advanced class from one week to the next.
In addition to instilling water safety skills, swim lessons offer a host of physical and mental benefits. Danelle says, “Swimming is a wonderful and healthy activity that enhances our bodies in many different ways, from muscular, cardiovascular and lung capacity development to memory, academic and concentration performance.”
Other Places to Take Swim Lessons, Lifeguard or Join a Swim Team
Chapel Hill – Carrboro YMCA
980 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill
301 Old Barn Lane, Chapel Hill
The YMCA’s swim programs include lessons for babies and toddlers (with their parents starting at age 6 months), preschool-aged children, youth and adults.
Group lessons both during the week and on Saturdays at the Chapel Hill – Carrboro YMCA will resume mid-January. The Meadowmont YMCA will resume group lessons in late May, with registration opening in the spring. Private lessons are available to YMCA members and are based on the availability of instructors. Summer outdoor lessons are reserved for Y members while indoor lessons are available to members and nonmembers throughout the year.
The YMCA also offers lifeguard training, stroke school for youth who are interested in improving the proficiency of their stroke for swim teams or lifeguarding certifications, and summer swim team for kids ages 5 to 18.
3) Chapel Hill Tennis Club
403 Westbrook Dr., Carrboro
Swim lessons at CHTC are coordinated based on member requests. Interested members can contact Erica Zurburch, aquatics program director at CHTC, for more information. In addition to swim lessons, CHTC partners with The Exchange Pool to form a combined summer league swim team, collectively known as TEST (Tennis Club-Exchange Swim Team). The swim team offers high-quality coaching and technique instruction to swimmers of all ages and skill levels.
4) The Exchange Pool
401 Umstead Dr., Chapel Hill
At The Exchange Pool, trained and certified instructors teach both group and private lessons for children at the pool with a focus on water safety, building confidence and learning strokes and floating techniques.
The Exchange Pool also has a swim team, which competes in the Chapel Hill Summer Swim League and its series of dual meets throughout the summer, culminating with the championship meet in late July. The swim team competes alongside the Chapel Hill Tennis Club, forming a combined team. Practices for the team begin in mid- to late May and are held in the afternoons until the end of the school year. Both morning and afternoon practices will be offered in the summer. For students who can swim at least 10 to 15 yards independently, the Watersprouts program provides a bridge to the swim team.
Openings for the positions of lifeguards and swim instructors at the pool are both available.
5) Orange County Sportsplex
101 Meadowlands Dr., Hillsborough
The Hillsborough Swimming School program at the Orange County Sportsplex focuses on stroke development, water safety and creative ways to enjoy the water. Group and private lessons are available, as well as opportunities to join the competitive Hillsborough Hammerheads Summer Swim team, the year-round Hillsborough Aquatic Club swim team, or the Masters swim team.
Andrew Stock, general manager of the Sportsplex, says that the facility is currently looking to hire lifeguards to work throughout the day. While registration for January and February swim lessons is on hold, he says the Sportsplex is accepting new members for the Hillsborough Aquatic Club swim team.
6) Southern Village Club
601 Brookgreen Dr., Chapel Hill
Qualified instructors are available for private and semiprivate swim lessons for members of the club. Swim lessons start in early to mid-May, based on the temperature of the water in the pool. The club offers three levels of swim lessons: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Parents whose children are enrolled in the beginner lessons can choose to work alongside their child, with the instructor socially distanced.
7) Stoneridge/Sedgefield Swim and Racquet Club
6901 Turkey Farm Rd., Chapel Hill
At SSSRC, the swimming season begins mid-May and extends until September. The 88,0000-gallon pool offers lap lanes, two diving boards and a large 2-foot shallow section for pre-swimmers.
Private and semiprivate swim lessons are available to SSSRC members throughout the season, and membership to the club is open to both residents of the Stoneridge/Sedgefield neighborhoods as well as nonresidents. Dedicated lap swim hours are provided throughout the season during the mornings on both weekdays and weekends, with the option to continue lap swimming postseason, depending on water and weather conditions, for an additional fee.
8) Town of Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation Homestead Aquatic Center
300 Aquatic Dr., Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation offers group swim lessons for children ages 3 to 12. Group lessons introduce new swimmers to the water while helping more experienced swimmers improve their technique. In each class, swimmers learn the skills needed to advance to the next level offered. Class sizes are currently limited to four students, swimmers are screened upon arrival and instructors wear face shields throughout class, keeping in mind the health and safety of all swimmers, staff and their families. Students ages 5 to 18 can also join the Youth Swim Team at Homestead Aquatic Center – a great opportunity to meet other local youth while improving fitness. For the more advanced swimmers looking to use their skills to help others stay safe in the water, lifeguarding opportunities are available.
9) UNC Aquatics
Bowman Gray Memorial Pool
300 South Rd., Chapel Hill
Kessing Outdoor Pool
91 Stadium Dr., Chapel Hill
UNC Aquatics offers swim lessons, swim stroke clinics, lifeguarding and other safety courses throughout the semester. Group, private and semiprivate lessons are available year-round to participants of all ages and experience levels. Students, faculty, staff, their families and community members are welcome to enroll in any of the aquatics programs. After putting lessons on hold for more than a year due to the pandemic, Aquatics Director Catherine Ayers says UNC Aquatics started teaching again as soon as they could do so safely. “We [continue] to offer smaller group sizes in our group lessons, and our instructors wear either face masks or face shields while teaching children in the water,” Catherine explains.