Children across the Valley spend their long summer days at public pools, not leaving the water until their fingertips and toes are like dried prunes.
And while most swim under the watchful eyes of parents, many come to the pool alone, leaving city aquatics staff to figure out how to keep them safe without turning lifeguards into baby sitters.
All city pools have strict rules about how old kids have to be to swim unaccompanied, but not all parents follow them. At some of Glendale's seven public pools, staffers stake out the front curb to make sure kids who are dropped off to swim have proper supervision before mom drives off.
It poses a dilemma for aquatics staff.
"The pools are a safe place to be, and we prefer they be with us than swimming unsupervised in a backyard pool or in a canal," says Kerry Martin, marketing director of aquatics in the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department.
Then again, lifeguards are posted around the pools for safety, not to settle squabbles or help kids in the bathroom.
"They just can't do both," says Zach Skinner, senior recreation coordinator of aquatics for the Glendale Parks and Recreation Department. "Safety is too important."
John Vedder of Ahwatukee, grew up near Chicago, and he would bike two blocks to the public pool with his friends. But times have changed, and nowhere is as safe as it used to be.
So he sits in the shade at the Pecos Pool in Ahwatukee, while his kids, Molly, 6, and Joshua, 7, take swim lessons. He says, "There's not as many parents as I'd like to see out here."
The problem is more prevalent at some pools than others, particularly in areas where there is not much else to do.
With pool admission free in Phoenix and as little as 50 cents in other cities, it's an affordable way for children to spend a day. For the most part, kids are well-behaved, just unattended with no one to make sure they reapply sunscreen or drink enough water, though the lifeguards do often remind them.
Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
By Karina Bland
©Copyright 2003 Arizona Republic
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