Home > Community, Reviews, Sports and Extracurricular Activities > Do You Get What You Pay For? A Look At Our First “Free” Adaptive Swim Lesson

Do You Get What You Pay For? A Look At Our First “Free” Adaptive Swim Lesson

So we went to Highbridge Pool yesterday for James’s first adaptive swim lesson – based on our experience two years ago we arrived with high hopes despite all of the phone/ registration confusion (see The Murky Waters). James seemed to enjoy it, but I left the pool feeling somewhat frustrated and disappointed.

Two years and God-knows-how-many budget cuts later the only thing similar about the lesson is the location. The lesson was no longer 1:1 or even close – not exaggerating, there must have been 30+ camp kids in the water with James. One of the main reasons we were doing adaptive lessons versus regular ones was to avoid crowds and the excited, splashing kids that make James so anxious. Two years ago it was just him and 1 instructor, a college student who worked for a special needs swim company. This year the majority of the adults in the water are counselors from other camps, trying to manage and encourage their own charges. The two lifeguard instructors are polite and friendly, but also have their hands full.

Then there is the lesson length. We are traveling to the closest location for these lessons, which for me is still a 45-60 minute bus or subway ride with all 3 kids. Two years ago the lesson was 1 hour long and often ran over, and as of Thursday morning I was told that James would have a lesson from 10-11a.m. We were told to show up early on the first day to register. We hustled over and arrived by 9:50a.m. By 10:10 the instructor finished his previous lesson and around 10:15 I was informed that James’s lesson would be in the 10:30-11:00 group. By 10:40 I was pretty “hot-steaming mad” and it wasn’t just because I was standing in the hot sun with all 3 kids (the shaded area was closed off for some reason?). It was also because we were still waiting for our now-measly-half-hour-in-a-large-splashy-group lesson! I hadn’t filled out a single registration form either. Geez, I thought (actually I thought a lot more than ‘Geez’ but why waste the time), why is it that I can get it together with the 3 kids and be here on time and prepared, but nobody here has any idea what’s going on?

Add to all of this a very disappointed, and vocal, 2 yr old who apparently had expected to also take a swim lesson and you can imagine how the first day went. When I had a spare moment from wrestling my daughter away from the water, I saw James hanging out in the larger pool. He looked relaxed enough standing next to one of the instructors, and seemed happy to be watching the actual lesson take place in the large group, about 20 feet away from him.

A special needs group lesson in Manhattan runs around $40 per half hour, up to $75 at some places. So the question is – is the free NYC parks lesson worth more than a comparable paid group lesson? Nothing is ever free, right? Here is what it personally costs me to bring James to his “free” lesson – I realize that some of these figures could be vastly different for other people depending on their situation:

Bus fare – $4.50

Subway fare – $4.50

45 min commute there with 3 pleasant children, including a 5 block walk with both babies strapped on – $10

1 hr 15 min commute back after waiting for the bus in the hot sun for 30 minutes and finally opting to walk 5 more blocks to the subway with 3 much less pleasant children who all needed water, sunscreen and a nap – $30 (I’m lowballing it here)

2 bottles of water – $2

3 bananas – $1

35 minutes of waiting with 3 kids at the pool – $10

25 minutes of waiting with 2 babies, including one who wants to get in the water too, loudly – $20

Total “cost” of the “free” lesson – $82 ($12 in actual cash)* 

While James was sudo-taking his lesson, I spoke with another lifeguard and expressed frustration at having traveled so far for James to stand in a pool for 25 minutes. For added emphasis my daughter continued to tantrum about not being able to swim, and the lifeguard mentioned that free swim started after James’s lesson. I immediately perked up. “Is the free swim crowded?” I asked. “Not usually until later, like 1 or 2,” he answered.

Free swim for all 3 of my children following a free adaptive swim lesson in a large, clean, almost empty pool – $100 credit

Revised total cost of the free lesson – FREE!**

So we’re going to go back again on Thursday with swimsuits for everyone, extra water bottles and more realistic expectations. Do I recommend these free lessons? Despite my critical review, possibly. I hope that this critique can be used in the way it is intended – as a warning for anyone expecting the quality of lessons that the NYC Parks provided 2 years ago, as a heads up for parents who might want to get the most out of their free lesson by extending their trip into free swim time, and/or as a reference for what to expect if it is your first time trying out the NYC Parks adaptive swim program.

*Numbers could vary widely depending on the weather, wait time, bus schedule and children behavior.

**Numbers could vary widely based on weather, crowds, locker room conditions and children behavior.


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