GREENSBORO — As dozens of Page High students came forward Friday to accept their learn-to-swim program certificates, Barbara Townsend accepted the hugs they offered.
Townsend lost her son, Malik Ramirez, in May 2019 when the Page student drowned in Buffalo Lake in Greensboro. She hopes he is not just remembered as the boy who drowned in the lake.
“I want them to remember him as Malik, the sweet 15-year-old with the bright smile,” she said Friday.
In the wake of Malik’s death, and with his mother’s blessing, the school partnered with the Page Alumni and Friends Association and the Greensboro Aquatic Center to create a new learn-to-swim program for Page in his honor. They started with about 20 students, but demand grew, and they added sessions. Now more than 80 students have completed the program, according to Richard Beard, a member of the alumni and friends group.
The aquatics center has designed a customized water-skills program for Page, similar to the learn-to-swim program they have offered to many second graders in Guilford County Schools since 2011.
Students take three 45-minute lessons a week for two weeks — a total of six lessons during the school day.
The alumni association uses money it has raised to pay for the lessons, along with swimming suits, towels, bus transportation to and from the aquatics center, and anything else the students might need, Beard said.
During Friday’s celebration in the high school’s cafeteria, Page Principal Erik Naglee announced that more students will have the opportunity to participate in the program this spring. After that announcement, students received their certificates, took a group picture and snacked on cake with icing in school colors of red, white and black.
Ninth grader Shamar Gregory said he signed up for the program because he is friends with Steniya Townsend, Malik’s niece, and he wanted to do something to honor them both.
Senior Joshua Posey had always wanted to learn how to swim but never took lessons before, so this seemed like a good opportunity, he said. Posey, who is 6-foot-3, said he goes to the pool with friends each summer, but he is so tall that he just walks on the bottom the whole time.
Both of them said they will always remember the time they first got into the 17-foot-deep pool section at the aquatics center during their lessons.
They talked about the fear of getting in water that deep, and then the discovery of being able to successfully paddle, kick and stay afloat.
“It meant a lot to me, for real, because I didn’t think I had it in me,” Posey said of completing the program.
Townsend, who has watched the program in action, has a similar challenge on the horizon.
She said she’s not feeling ready to get in the water yet, but she does want to learn to swim, and is thinking of getting a lesson with other family members this summer: in time for Malik’s Aug. 19 birthday. He would have been 17.