ST. LOUIS — For many kids, learning to swim comes early. But that's not always the case for refugee children who come to the United States.

Some are from cultures where swimming isn't taught, but a group of local high school students is working to change that by helping these kids learn to love the water.

The refugee children come to St. Louis from other countries like Syria and Sudan. Their swim instructors created the program and are students from Lutheran South High School in St. Louis.

Kayla Loesche, a junior at the high school, is one of the instructors.

"This is a rare opportunity for them to learn how to swim or maybe learn a few strokes or maybe just get introduced to a pool for the first time in their lives," Loesche said.

The idea came after their 18-year-old classmate, Henry Manu, drowned in the Meramec River in 2016. He was an immigrant from Liberia and did not know how to swim.

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The program is sponsored by Christian Friends of New Americans (CFNA), a local nonprofit that Manu belonged to. It offers resources for refugee and immigrant families.

Stanish Stanley is a member of CFNA.

"Just for an opportunity to come to this place to learn a very important life-saving skill and also just be impacted by these friends from Lutheran High School South. It's such a blessing," Stanley said.

Each week the organization brings 30 refugee children to the Affton High School pool to learn how to float and tread water, but many dive deeper and can now swim across the entire pool.

"I was there four years ago during the first like swim lesson," said Stephanie Kohm, who organizes the program. "The first time we did this and to see where they were there and to see how far they've come now and how confident they are in the water that's probably one of the best parts for me." 

Thanks to this program these kids have learned potentially life-saving skills and will be ready to make a splash anytime they jump into the water.

The four-week program runs every Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

For more information contact Kippin Schelp, Communications Director Lutheran High School South at kschelp@lhsastl.org.

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