“I DID IT!” Those three words are probably the sweetest three words a parent can hear from a child with special needs. And it’s a phrase that Club Fit’s Helen Peters has the privilege of hearing from her students in the Adaptive Swim program.
Helen, who has been a swim instructor at Club Fit for more than 20 years, is also a Special Education teacher in the Newburgh School District. When Club Fit decided to incorporate the Adaptive Swim lessons into the Aquatics programming about seven years ago, Helen’s experience in both teaching and swim made her the perfect candidate to teach. She holds a master’s degree in Special Education from Fordham University, and has been a swim instructor since the age of 16.
“We teach kids all along the spectrum, and we try to group the kids by age and ability,” says Helen. Some parents prefer to do private or semi-private lessons, but the 4:1 student-to-teacher ratio does allow Helen to give each child the needed attention. The small-group classes are offered three days a week, and are available to members and nonmembers.
Helen works with each child in the group and modifies her approach based on each child’s limitations. She is currently working with two blind children, who cannot see her directions so she needs to actually do the movements with them. Some children have sensory issues, which may require trying different types of goggles to see which are more comfortable, as well as a little more time to get used to the water. Helen has actually found that with most kids, the water is a soothing environment. “The water can calm them down, and usually the hardest part of the entire lesson is at the end, when they don’t want to get out of the pool!” she says.
There have been students as young as three years old, including two three-year-olds with cerebral palsy. The program is available to kids up to age 13. “It’s a unique program that isn’t offered many places,” says Helen. “Our students run the gamut, from those afraid of the water to those who can do laps on their own, but at whatever level it is so rewarding to see their sense of accomplishment.” One student recently passed the Aquatics Center swim test required for him to swim independently in the pool. Another, who is blind and started out with a fear of swimming, recently mastered jumping in the pool by himself. Others are involved in sports programming outside the club, and Helen loves to hear about their accomplishments out of the water. “The kids get so much out of any activity where they can work toward a goal, not matter how big or small, and master it.”
Helen, married and a mother of three, lives in Peekskill and uses the club herself to keep in shape. She does cardio and plays racquetball, in addition to her time in the Aquatics Center. “People sometimes don’t recognize me outside of the pool!” she says.
The next session of Adaptive Swim will begin September 8. If your child or someone you know would benefit from this unique program, please contact Kristina Wolak at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, including Helen! Visit us online to learn more about Adaptive Swim Lessons and to register!