Evaluating the abilities, needs and achievements of disabled swimmers is essential to developing their confidence in and around water.

At West Central High School Aquatics in Columbus, Ohio, a seasoned team of instructors works with more than 50 severely disabled high school students each day, constantly monitoring the students’ progress in the facility’s 25-yard, six-lane therapy pool.

What sets West Central apart from many programs, according to our Awards judges, are the comprehensive student assessment forms used to measure even the smallest and most obscure increments of success.

“We had several teachers, 15 years ago, who wanted students to have official goals, and we needed an official baseline based on assessments,” says Tina Pashovich, aquatics director at West Central. “We couldn’t find a set of goals for our population (low-functioning students) so we came up with our own.”

The assessment form’s first category asks the instructor to evaluate the student’s behavioral pattern upon entering the pool area. From there, instructors keenly observe the students and even note reactions to seeing fellow students in the water. These evaluations are important because the mental adjustment to aquatics complements the physical adjustment, according to Pashovich.

The form also helps instructors track how tolerant students are to challenging themselves. The section on breath control and respiratory function notes the minor victories students achieve before moving forward. For example, the forms track milestones such as blowing bubbles through a straw, blowing floating toys across the water, blowing bubbles in the pool, putting face in the water and putting head underwater.

“It’s nice for them to see the progression in writing,” says Pashovich.

The program owes much of its success to the dedication of the staff and the familiarity that students have with their instructors.

“I’ve seen 60 percent of the students for more than eight years,” Pashovich says. “It’s nice with this population for them to get to know their instructor very well. There was a time when we would rotate instructors, but we found we weren’t making as much progress that way.”