When Spencer Baxter moved to Hartford two years ago, his family settled in a neighborhood near two parks with public pools. If they glimpsed one of the pools open on a hot summer day, they would head home to don swimsuits, and go back.

“Unfortunately, by the time we returned to the pool, in that short span of time, the pool would be closed, citing lack of available lifeguards,” said Baxter ‘26, who would then turn the car to a nearby town to look for an open pool.

Baxter was one of a half-dozen students from Trinity College and the CT State Community College Capital who examined the issue of Hartford’s lifeguard shortage at the start of the academic year.

Hartford is not unique in experiencing a dearth of lifeguards. Closed facilities and reduced hours like those Baxter encountered at Pope and Keney parks, have become a trend in towns and cities nationwide.

To understand the issue and potential solutions, Hartford’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission sought the academic partnership through Trinity’s Liberal Arts Action Lab. Each semester, the Liberal Arts Action Lab collaborates with organizations to pursue research that can deepen their work and inform decision making. Students examined existing data, conducted focus groups with lifeguards, and solicited community feedback.

“The students did a phenomenal job researching the issue from both a macro- and micro-level,” said Laura Minor, director of Trinity’s Center for Hartford Engagement and Research academic programs, and lecturer in public policy and law.

Minor led the team made up of Baxter, Alex Lewis ’24, Georgia Fales ’26, Yulia Puhareva ’26, Alexander Bleakley ’24, of Trinity; and Jasmine Lall, of CT State Community College Capital.

Over the past decade, they learned, demographic, cultural, and economic shifts led to fewer young people working in the summers and increasing competition for seasonal workers. The pandemic worsened the city’s ability to retain lifeguards.

The situation will likely get worse as the number of residents who learn how to swim is declining, leading to a shrinking pool of lifeguards to attract, the students reported. In the meantime, recruitment methods for lifeguards differ from place-to-place, with successful methods being those that streamline and cover the costs of the certification process.

The study included several recommendations such as promoting interest in swimming to the population, creating new recruitment channels, increasing advertising, boosting competitive compensation, and forming public-private partnerships.

“The most surprising finding was right out of the box—full out media campaigns for recruiting from a much wider audience,” said Donna Swarr, Hartford’s Park and Recreation Advisory Commissioner.

While the city had always focused on very targeted areas to recruit lifeguards, such as high school swim teams, said Swarr, they are now considering expanding that scope. One recommendation is to consider targeting retirees.

Students presented the findings to Hartford’s Public Works, Parks, Recreation and Environment Committee, which is already implementing some of the findings, such as raising the pay level, said Swarr. The report will also be shared with other city officials, including the director of the Sports and Recreation Department once that person is hired, she said.

The project offered a way for student Georgia Fales to engage more with the community of Hartford and create positive change for the community.

“At first glance the lifeguard shortage seems like such a small issue, but we found that it is the result of many larger issues,” said Fales. “Working with our community partners we learned about the history of the public pools and the elements that once supplied the lifeguard pipeline but no longer do, such as Hartford’s school swim teams, and recreational programs.”

At the time he signed on to pursue the research, Baxter was a student at the CT State Community College Capital. Since then, he has transferred to Trinity.

“Participating in the Liberal Arts Action Lab is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me and my academic career,” said Baxter. “This was more than just a school assignment for us. We all took our work very seriously and I was so impressed with the quality of data we collected and presented.”