(this story was written by Kristen Oliver of the Gainesville Times: October 2, 2015)
Swimming, martial arts help kids with disabilities
Many children don’t have access to quality swimming lessons. Fewer get a chance to take Taekwondo.
Even fewer children get a chance to do both when they have a learning or behavioral disorder.
But students at Ava White Academy in Gainesville have access to both for the first time this year, thanks to a partnership between the school and local businesses.
Fifteen Ava White students are currently taking swimming lessons Tuesdays and Thursdays at Frances Meadows Aquatics Center with the Neverland Aquatics company, a group specializing in working with special needs students.
“All of our kids, except at one location, are exclusive, adaptive lessons for disabilities. So we definitely cater to their needs,” said Neverland owner and lead instructor Kristie Snape, who works with fellow instructor Morgan Wojcik and Gwinnett County Schools intern Samantha Van Hoose. “We understand how to work with them, and all of our instructors are trained in adaptive aquatics.”
Snape said the program splits the students into two groups, one for more experienced swimmers and one with more technique-based learning.
Snape taught special education in public schools for eight years before founding the company. She took what she used in the classroom and adapted it for the water.
“We’re so fortunate to have Kristie,” White said. “These kids have had problems finding teachers who don’t know how to teach them.”
Snape said all the lessons are adaptive and consider physical, cognitive and emotional needs.
“Swimming is just a good release,” she said. “For any kids who have difficulty coordinating their whole body, swimming is the best possible thing they could be doing. You have to think about what your hands are doing, what your feet are doing — every part of your body. It’s a great activity and the kids seem to really enjoy it as well.”
Ava White, academy founder, said the lessons help give the students a well-rounded education.
“We’re talking about self-confidence, paying attention, learning a lifelong skill,” White said. “Anything we can do that’s fine motor helps their gross-motor skills. Plus of course, it’s a good safety thing. We’ve got kids here who don’t know how to swim.”
Ava White Academy is a member of Georgia Association Private Schools for Exceptional Children. The school is designed for remediation of specific learning disabilities, and includes a hybrid homeschool and traditional high school.
“We’ve got students with Aspergers, with central auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia, attention deficit disorder, speech and language programs,” White said. “That pretty much runs the whole gambit I think.”
Along with the swimming lessons through Neverland Aquatics, the academy is offering Taekwondo at the school gym at the same time. Both activities are incredibly beneficial for these students, White said.
“They absolutely love it,” White said. “And we’ve learned a lot going forward. We’ll probably have some switching off, and have the Taekwondo kids come over here and these kids go to Taekwondo. They are just such good activities for the kids.”