Water Safety for everyone Eugene Rec offers a unique Adaptive class for children who need more attention before entering swim lessons

Ben Schorzman | Content Coordinator, Eugene Rec

On a recent summer morning, six-year-old Mason bounces around in the shallow end at Amazon Pool. His curly blond hair drips chlorine-treated water and his grin looks jagged thanks to a few missing teeth.

Mason, an Adapted Water Safety Class participant smiles while listening to an instructor.

Next to Mason, an Adaptive Recreation intern encourages him to blow bubbles in the water. After that, she asks him to bob in place, dipping his head under the water before he pops back to the surface.

It’s all a part of Eugene Rec’s Adapted Water Safety program, created in 2015 as an outlet for children who need a more guided class on water safety before entering into the usual swim lessons offered through the City.

“Mason enjoys it,” says Toni, Mason’s grandmother. “He’s a little more confident and I actually think he might learn to swim one day.”

The class, offered every session, is one-of-a-kind. Adaptive Recreation Supervisor Shayle Wigger says she coordinated a similar program when she lived in Virginia that was grant funded. She borrowed the curriculum base of that class and sampled from her own experiences and programs to build a rubric. Then, working with Eugene Rec aquatics staff and their knowledge of teaching swim lessons and water safety, a new class started to take shape.

“It really has just taken on a life of its own,” Wigger says.

“It’s unique to Eugene. There are similar programs throughout the country but this really is our flavor, our making that fits with our community.”

If someone spends an hour watching an Adapted Water Safety class, it becomes clear quickly it’s not just a swim class for children who need more support. The class helps them be comfortable in the water, be aware of safety concerns while swimming and also work on their social skills.

“There’s something really special about seeing kids play together who don’t necessarily do well together,” says Carly Schmidt, an Adaptive Recreation Programmer.

Adaptive Recreation Programmer Carly Schmidt watches an Adapted Water Safety Class at Amazon Pool.

Lessons include safety walks around the pool, familiarizing kids with lifejackets and talks about how to properly get into the pool. Then the class works on swim skills. With a two-to-one ratio of kids to staff, they get plenty of attention.

“Our kids are on a spectrum of comfort in the water,” Adapted Water and Swim Safety instructor Katelyn Olive says. “They could be overly comfortable and we need to work on reminding them what’s OK, and we also have kids who aren’t sure about the water."

“We also get to work with their social skills and team building through games we play.”

Adapted Water Safety instructor Katelyn Olive

Schmidt says the impetus for starting the class came out of aquatics seeing so many kids in swim lessons who weren’t being successful because they needed so much more support in the water with safety skills. The aim of this class is to breed confidence and independence.

“I think this class is important because if we don’t take the time to teach these skills and teach them how awesome the water is and its therapeutic benefits, they may never become comfortable in the water and it only becomes more challenging as they grow,” Olive says.

Mason’s grandmother, Toni, thought that when she enrolled her grandson. She says he’s beginning to learn some fundamental skills like floating and getting comfortable with his head under the water. She says in her family the ones who started swimming early were the ones who did well. She wanted to make sure Mason got some exposure early because in Oregon, water is everywhere.

“I think [Eugene Rec] is absolutely wonderful here,” she says. “It provides so many different services for so many different parts of the population. This class is just perfect. I see all the kids getting benefits from it.”

From a casual observer, the class can seem a bit chaotic compared to normal swim lessons. The children in Adapted Water Safety have a range of disabilities that make for a unique challenge. Olive and her staff maintain a fun atmosphere despite the challenges. Games are incorporated into the lessons to teach social skills.

“Recreation is all about having fun and playing games,” Olive says, “and about exercise and movement and finding the therapeutic benefits of those in your life.

“They’re learning to interact with others and be aware of their bodies and reactions to others and to be in control of that.”

The next session of the class begins Sept. 30 at Sheldon Pool. It will run for eight weeks, and after this summer session Schmidt says she’s encouraged about it gaining roots. The summer class was the first time since it started in 2015 that the class was full with nine kids.

“We’ll see what fall brings,” she says. “But I think word is getting out.”

Wigger is also encouraged and happy with how the class has progressed from the initial idea. With the help of Olive and others at Hilyard Community Center she has wanted to create a solidified curriculum.

“It was really important for us to get something on paper,” Wigger says, “and get it written out so we could potentially market a training program that we could take to places and say, ‘here’s a model for teaching youth with disabilities water awareness.’”

Olive’s positive, smiling attitude brightens when asked about why she thinks the class is important. She’s been teaching since January and interacts with families almost daily. She hears similar things from all of them.

Adapted Water Safety

“It makes it easier on those families when they have outings,” she says. “When they come to Amazon Pool during the summer time and there are hundreds of kids running everywhere and the lifeguards are busy, it’s a relief for them and also they know their kids are learning and having a blast and meeting others who are like them in some way and almost creating a community for them here at the pool where they feel safe and welcome.”

The 2017 Fall Eugene Rec Guide

Photos and video by Ben Schorzman

Credits:

Ben Schorzman/Eugene Rec

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