Aquatics Class Helps Special Education Students Meet Academic Goals
January 13, 2011
The sounds of students splashing around in the water reverberate in the newly renovated pool at Mamie D. Lee School, a special education school for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities, ages three through 21 years old.
Jessica Crosiar, instructor and former certified lifeguard, watches the students, making sure they’re practicing water safety skills as they splash and swim around.
Although an hour spent in the pool sounds like purely a recreational activity, Mamie D. Lee is in year one of a three year project to create therapeutic educational opportunities for its students in the areas of aquatics, music and arts that will stimulate students’ academic, emotional and behavioral growth, as well as create opportunities for students to learn in an inclusive environment.
“Adaptive aquatics is a therapeutic outlet for students with disabilities – it increases self-esteem, aids physical therapy, and helps meet some of the students’ physical and emotional goals,” said Lisa Grillo, principal at Mamie D. Lee. “This class is not geared toward expert swimming, and that’s not the class’ desire. The first step is water safety and to enhance the students’ sense of self-expression because if they don’t communicate verbally, this is a different way to express themselves.”
With the help of Dr. Richard Nyankori, Chief Operating Officer Anthony Tata and Instructional Superintendent William Wilhoyte, Principal Lisa Grillo submitted her three-year proposal for approval to both former Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, which was approved in time to make plans for the 2010-2011 school year and undertake the project of revitalizing the school’s once inoperable pool.
The pool opened in early December, and Jessica Crosiar, who received her certification in adaptive aquatics, teaches the class. She groups students by skill level, and one of the main goals for this year, said Ms. Crosiar, is for all the students to understand the rules of and to excel in water safety. Her second goal is for them to be confident in the water.
Currently, there are approximately 60 out of the more than 80 students at Mamie D. Lee who are enrolled in the aquatics program.
Principal Grillo said she tributes the high enrollment to the parental outreach they did to help alleviate parents’ fears about allowing their children to swim and reassure parents that there would be sufficient supervision at the pool.
“Mamie D. Lee did a lot of parent outreach. We gave parents a tour of the pool, had an information session with Ms. Crosiar, talked about it during IEP meetings – we are creating a supportive culture of the program,” said Principal Grillo.
Principal Grillo also said that Mamie D. Lee staff truly has invested in the adaptive aquatics program, whether that means giving up planning periods to help supervise or getting into the pool with the students.
Ms. Crosiar said the class serves as another path toward achieving some of the students’ behavioral and educational goals on their IEP. In essence, the adaptive aquatics classes support the Teaching and Learning Framework, but with an aquatic component.
“Children can work on a number of different lessons, such as identifying colors, following directions and improving leg strength to help with walking,” said Ms. Crosiar. “The adaptive aquatics class makes it easier to blend lessons.”
To help students learn how to identify colors, Ms. Crosiar said she sets up cones with different colors on them around the pool and directs the children to swim toward a certain color.
The pool also is a great emotional outlet for students. One student’s mother recently passed away, and he uses the pool under the supervision of Ms. Crosiar and a therapist as a relaxing, therapeutic environment.
The students also view the pool as a reward, and they enjoy coming to class.
Eventually, Principal Grillo envisions the pool as an inclusive, community meeting spot for all students and other schools to come together to use the pool.
Currently, the pool is closed until maintenance fixes issues with the pool’s temperature level, but it should be open in time for students to return to class in the next couple weeks.
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