Special needs kids learn how to swim with the help of trained swim buddies

Special needs kids can learn how to swim this summer thanks to lessons offered specifically for them by the City of Temecula. This is the third summer that the lessons are being held due to their popularity with parents.

“We’ve gotten amazing feedback from parents,” said the city’s Pool Manager Melissa Davis.  

She explained that the city saw a need for the lessons because some special needs kids had difficultly learning in regular lessons. The special needs lessons have trained volunteers, or buddies, who work one on one with students to keep them on task. They also assist and encourage them as they learn skills. The students have the same buddy for all lessons for consistency.

Lessons are held at Temecula Elementary School’s outside, heated pool, which the city operates. Instructors focus on basic water skills and water adjustment. They teach how to blow bubbles, float, kick and front crawl. There are three students in each lesson and they’re grouped by age and skill level. The lessons are for ages three to 15.

“Our hope is to get younger kids in now so they’ll be water safe for the rest of their lives.” Davis said.

The city has a Swim Buddy Program and trains volunteers to work with the students. Volunteers are mostly teenagers who desire to work with special needs kids for community service credit. The city’s Inclusion Services Specialist Yvette Martinez usually trains the volunteers.  

“We teach the swim buddies sensitivity training, which includes inclusion, types of special needs, behaviors to expect, sensitivity and how to respond, and safety,” Martinez said. “It is basic training, but very worthwhile and essential to our swim buddies. The class is intended to prepare swim buddies so that they will be equipped to work effectively and sensitively to meet the needs of our participants.”

Temecula resident Mark Anselmo said his autistic son Nicholas, 13, has taken the lessons for the past two summers and loves it. His son is taking lessons again this summer.

“The city has made it a very low stress, fun environment for our kids,” said Anselmo, who started the Our Nicholas Foundation in 2005 with his wife Kathy Anselmo to help local children affected by autism.

“Swimming is our biggest fear and as with many autistic individuals, Nicholas has no fear, especially with water,” his father said. “We always avoided swimming parties, etcetera, due to our concerns. This program has taught him the basics – floating, usage of arms and more. He has come a long way and we hope this is the summer that he completes the entire learning curve of swimming.”

“We’ve had a lot of kids that have learned how to swim, which is great,” commented the city’s Aquatics Supervisor Gwen Willcox.

Mark Anselmo praises city staff and buddies involved with the lessons.  

“Gwen as the director has done a great job and their staff have been very helpful through the entire process. Couple that with the typical peer buddies and it is a winning scenario,” he said.

The lessons cost $45 for residents and $55 for non-residents. They meet for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons for two weeks. Registration is still available for lessons offered July 7 to 18.  

Online registration is required for the lessons starting June 25 to July 2. Visit www.swim.cityoftemecula.org to register. For more information, call (951) 308-6396.

The city is also offering Family Swim Nights this summer for special needs kids at the Community Recreation Center pool. The dates are June 17, July 22 and August 19 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Cost is $1 for residents and $5 for non-residents.

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