Hope floats, kids swim

A mother otter teaches her young to swim by entering the water, with her small offspring clinging to the fur on her back, and diving under.

This causes the young otters to have to try their own little paws at getting themselves to land. Throughout their struggles and eventual triumphs, however, the otter mother stays right beside them, watching them, assisting them and instructing them until the young are proficient and confident in their new skill.

With a similar method of teaching, Oak Harbor resident Keri Martin helps special-needs children add to their list of achievements, growth and development through swimming instructions at the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool in Oak Harbor.

Oak Harbor resident Dan Davis, the father of two of Martin’s special needs students, said his young sons have benefited from Martin’s swimming instructions and have grown socially and more interactive through her classes.

Alex Davis, 6, and Cameron Davis, 5, have taken swim lessons with Martin for the past four months.

Davis said for Alex, Martin’s swim lessons have helped to boost his self confidence, which in turn has caused him to challenge himself to try things he has never done before.

Davis said the lessons have also helped Cameron overcome some of the sensory issues he has.

“Every time they come, they gain new confidence,” he said. “They try new things.”

Craig Carlson, pool director, said he and the pool staff want everyone to have an equal opportunity to learn how to swim and enjoy the water.

Martin, who has worked at the Oak Harbor pool for about a year, said she has taught special needs swimming lessons for about nine months. She explained that she feels it takes a special person to work with special needs children, quickly adding that she was not trying to imply anything about herself or the children, but explained that it takes a person with patience, a fun personality and someone who loves the challenge and the children.

Martin said whenever she sees an application for swim lessons that mention a special need or mobility disability, she usually takes them before other instructors get a chance to offer to teach them.

“I usually take them because I love it,” she said.

Martin said she has experience in dealing with special-needs children outside of swimming lessons. She has her degree in early childhood education and has worked with special needs students in a classroom setting.

“It takes patience and wanting to see these kids succeed,” she said.

As Davis works with Alex in the deep end of the pool, Martin works with Cameron for a half an hour, and then they switch.

Martin plays water games with the blond 5-year-old, who doesn’t yet talk. He, however, has no problem pushing off from the wall and splashing toward Martin. Reaching her, he holds on for a spin and a splash before heading back toward the wall for a second try.

“These kids have come so far,” Martin said, watching Cameron as he clings to the side of the pool, waiting for her to tell him when to push off.

She said Alex is already learning how to tread water and jump into the deep end of the pool. He keeps Martin and Davis busy trying to keep up with him and all the things he wants to try in the water.

During Alex’s half hour, Martin instructs Alex on proper jumping techniques, and safety. She also has him answer questions, give input into situations and exercise and improve his swimming strokes.

As the boys’ lessons come to an end, Martin encourages their efforts, but requires them to improve. She said her hope is to teach them to get out of the water by themselves if they ever had to. And by the end of their lesson, Martin has helped Alex and Cameron exercise physically, mentally and socially.

“It makes me feel good by the end of the day,” Martin said, on teaching special needs child to swim. “I just really enjoy it.”

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