SJCC shifts focus to group swim lessons only in 2023

Pools nationwide have been facing lifeguard shortage.

Kara Kaplan jumped into her new job with both feet splashing in the water at the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC).

When she entered the SJCC realm two-and-a-half months ago as the new aquatics manager, Kaplan’s first day on the local scene included teaching swim lessons.

“It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. I have so much fun doing it, so I jump in and help out wherever I can,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan is lending a major hand by expanding the SJCC’s group swim lesson offerings starting this January so more kids can begin attaining a valuable life skill while interacting with and learning from their peers during these community-building sessions.

Amid the national lifeguard shortage of the past few years, the SJCC will discontinue its private lessons and focus solely on group sessions as the new year unfolds. According to an NPR report, the pandemic lessened lifeguard training and resulted in expired certifications across the country.

To bring new lifeguards into the fold, the SJCC will be hosting a certification class from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 19-20. Fees will be waived if the participants intend to work for the SJCC upon completing the course, according to its website, which adds that no prior experience is necessary. To register, visit

“We just want to make sure that our community stays safe in and around the water,” Kaplan said of welcoming in more lifeguards to the center, which currently has 15 swim instructors — who are also lifeguard certified — on board.

Kaplan, who began working in the aquatics field as a YMCA lifeguard in California at the age of 16, said the lifeguard shortage and the pandemic have also impacted the availability of swim lessons.

“Swimming is not like any other activity or sport. Swimming can save your life,” said Kaplan, adding that it’s crucial for the center to offer lessons to as many kids in the community as possible.

Presently, the SJCC offers 42 group lessons and that number will rise to more than 126 in January to accommodate more than 600 youth swimmers. The center will offer weekday and weekend lessons.

Copious parents are thrilled with the expansion of group lessons as their kids have been on the waiting list for the last one to two years, said Kaplan, who added that those parents involved in private lessons have been receptive to the change so that more kids can commence their swimming journey.

Also on the parents front, Kaplan encourages them to learn how to become lifeguards or swim instructors to gain the skills to keep their kids safe.

To register for swim lessons at the SJCC, visit


Over at the Mercer Island Beach Club, general manager Katie Boissoneault weighed in on the lifeguard shortage, noting that the pandemic has disrupted the aquatics industry.

“From Mercer Island Beach Club’s perspective, with pool and lakefront swimming, lifeguards and swim instructors are always in demand,” said Boissoneault, adding that the club offers annual American Red Cross lifeguard certification courses to attract and retain staff and will host its next class on Dec. 29-30. For information, visit

Margaret Hoelzer, Mercer Island Country Club aquatics coordinator, said the club’s only recent changes have centered on employees’ wages, “but that has more to do with minimum wage going up and having to try to keep up with Seattle than anything else.”

The Reporter also reached out to the Mary Wayte Pool and Mercerwood Shore Club for comments, but didn’t receive responses at press time.