Partnering in the pool

Erick VanNatta, in yellow, tosses the ball into the net as other A.P.E. students and swim instructors play a game of water polo. Clockwise from left are Spencer Schwegler, VanNatta, Chris Amato, Serena Lopez and Jonny Timmsen. Sentinel photos/Karen Brainard
Erick VanNatta, in yellow, tosses the ball into the net as other A.P.E. students and swim instructors play a game of water polo. Clockwise from left are Spencer Schwegler, VanNatta, Chris Amato, Serena Lopez and Jonny Timmsen. Sentinel photos/Karen Brainard

By Karen Brainard

Sounds of cheering and splashing could be heard from Ramona High School's pool on  Wednesday mornings when a group of students learned water polo from peers who know the game well.

The program proved beneficial for the Adapted Physical Education (A.P.E.) students who have moderate to severe disabilities, their swim instructors and the volunteers who helped.

"I love the kids," said peer tutor Tatiana Lloyd-Dotta, who volunteered. "It's an amazing opportunity and eye-opening about life."

Learning the game of water polo was just one of many activities for the A.P.E. students who participated in a four-week extended school session.

"We want them to participate with family and friends with activities," said Connie Halfaker, A.P.E. specialist. "Our focus in general is getting kids and families to recognize how recreationally-able the kids are."

"There's very little these kids can't do," said adult volunteer Stacey Riordan.

Eighteen A.P.E. students, from age 13 to 22, attended the extended school. They spent an hour each weekday morning at the pool where,  in addition to learning water polo, they had lessons and free swim.

"When you teach them, you're giving them something new and when you do that it feels really good," said swim instructor Spencer Schwegler, a junior at Ramona High School who competes on the swim and water polo teams.

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Playing a game of water polo are clockwise from back left: Jonny Timmsen, swim instructor Madi Lanz, Shawn Devallian, instructor Bree Hogervorst, Chris Amato and instructor Serena Lopez.

RHS aquatics director Jolyn Yanez partnered with Halfaker and Dan Marshall, who teaches Ramona High's adult transition program for those with disabilities. Yanez's swim instructors and lifeguards, most of whom are Ramona High students or graduates, participated in the pool part of the program.

The pool, Yanez said, created a nice break for the A.P.E. students and teaching them safety skills is important. For those with limited mobility in their joints, the water can be therapeutic, she said.

Lessons revolved around such fundamental skills as breath control and floating on the front and back and being able to turn over quickly in the water, she said.

As for teaching the sport of water polo, Yanez said,  "Because so many of my kids have been in water polo, so that's a natural. They've all got this intrusive love for the sport."

On free swim days the A.P.E. students played in the pool with floats, noodles, squirt guns and other water-related toys.

"You hear them giggling and laughing," commented Yanez.

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Swim instructor Spencer Schwegler high-fives Erick VanNatta.

According to Halfaker, for those who have difficulty walking, the water gives them a sense of weightlessness and they can be independently mobile in the pool.

"It just gives them a sense of independence," she said.

Halfaker praised the high school and college students who volunteered and offered their support.

"They just come, show up and play with the kids," she said.

Llody-Dotta said working with the A.P.E. students has taught her more about life than in any high school class.

She said it has taught her about patience and compassion and to understand the day to day struggles they face.

   
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