The U.S. Swim School Association is taking its Special Abilities class on the road.
The intensive, eight-hour, classroom-style course teaches swim instructors how to provide lessons to children and adults with special needs.
The course was developed about five years ago and previously was only available two times a year -- at the association’s national conference in the fall and workshop in the spring. That meant swim school owners had to pay to send their staff, which was cost-prohibitive to some.
Now the USSSA is bringing the course to them.
“We saw there was definitely a need to offer it more than twice a year,” said USSSA Executive Director Sue Mackie.
This is the association’s second such “on-the-go” course. Its curriculum on infant/toddler swim instruction has been taught outside of conferences for a couple of years now. Classes are exclusive to USSSA members.
The new format for the Special Abilities class debuted in November at Small Fish Big Fish Swim School in West Palm Beach, Fla. Instructors from a neighboring facility also attended.
The class aims to put instructors into the mindset of those who are learning to swim with cognitive challenges, explained Erin Seal-Grande, a course instructor and founding member of the association’s Special Abilities committee. She holds an M.A. in adapted physical education with an emphasis on adaptive aquatics.
For example, children with autism are often dependent on a routine set of events to structure their daily lives. That’s why instructors are encouraged to use visual aids in the swimming pool, such as a picture board or an iPad to show the order of the day’s activities.
“Their lives are lived by schedules,” said Seals-Grande, an owner of Seal Swim School in Tarpon Springs, Fla., and one of several presenters available to teach the class nationwide. “We show them how to develop schedules within the pool. That way they’re very clear on what the structure of the class is going to be.”
The class also focuses on what student swimmers are able to do rather than their impairments – hence the course’s title, Special Abilities.
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Debbie Sayers, owner of DolFUN Swim Academy in Portland, Ore., is a newly minted Special Abilities presenter. In order to become a certified presenter of the Special Abilities class, a swim instructor must first apply with the USSSA and have experience working with people with special needs. They also must accompany a presenter for a class, which Sayers did. She was at the November session with Seals-Grande.
Sayers is no stranger to train-the-trainer programs. She’s been all over the world teaching the infant/toddler course, which she helped spearhead. (The USSSA has international members.) She was eager to add the Special Abilities program to her repertoire.
“As I go, it’s going to be great to offer both courses,” Sayers said.
Rolling out a new on-the-go course is just one way the 27-year-old association has broadened its educational offerings in recent months. The USSSA just launched a new online learning platform where members can take classes on a range of subjects, from water quality to brain development.
The association currently has 385 members, representing more than 600 swim schools around the world.