By Mike Schuh

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Generation after generation of Baltimore families have made the trek to a cool spot in Woodlawn to learn a lifesaving skill.

For 45 years, one family has taught generations of mostly African American kids from Baltimore how to swim.

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It’s truly amazing what has happened in this backyard pool, hard along the Beltway, in Windsor Mill.

It’s Mr. Thorpe’s backyard.

Generations of kids, more than 15,000, learned to swim here.

Meet the 4-year-old who was the first student.

“I bent over and the next thing you know I’d fallen in the water, and he was like, ‘I better teach him how to swim or he’s going to kill himself,'” said Marvin Thorpe II.

Student number one is Mr. Thorpe’s son, Marvin.

From that point on, summertime was spent teaching kids how to swim.

“But yes, my dad started with me here in 1972,” said Thorpe II.

Mr. Thorpe died in 2004, and look who took over: His son, Mr. Marvin.

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“For me it was something I was programmed to do,” he said. “My dad taught me how to do this, so it’s not that hard for me, it’s really easy. I enjoy doing it, I really do.”

He and his dad figured out, if you want them to learn to swim, you have to keep them in the pool for the whole session.

“If the students are cold, you’re not going to teach them nothing,” Thorpe said. “They’re not trying to do anything but get out.”

So they pioneered a solar heating array, and that did the trick.

But now, it’s time for change. No, not closure… expansion.

“I’ve been in this backyard forever,” Thorpe said. “I look to get out of here and I aspire to get out of here and get an indoor facility where I can do all year long.”

Kids, and adults, overcame their fears in a man’s backyard. Maybe there are thousands more who will do the same one day at a place open year-round.

“I’ve been doing it my whole life. I enjoy teaching people how to swim.”

The school’s website has information on how to help them fund a move to an indoor facility.

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