Rave Re­views For City’s Pilot Sen­sory Sharks And Mer­maids

Riverbank News - - FRONT PAGE - BY VIR­GINIA STILL vstill@oak­dale­leader.com

A new four-week pilot pro­gram called Sen­sory Sharks and Mer­maids be­gan ear­lier this month at the Com­mu­nity Pool hosted by the City of River­bank’s Parks and Re­cre­ation De­part­ment. This free pro­gram was open to chil­dren un­der 18 years of age with spe­cial aquatic needs. The idea for the pro­gram was cre­ated by Alyssa Bau­man who brought it to Parks and Re­cre­ation Direc­tor Sue Fitz­patrick to help youth in the com­mu­nity that have spe­cial needs.

“Sue at Parks and Re­cre­ation had wanted to do some­thing like this for a while but had con­cerns about if there was a need,” stated Bau­man. “My son West (West­ley) had been tak­ing swim lessons through parks and rec for years and was al­ways ac­com­mo­dated but I didn’t feel like that was ac­ces­si­ble to a large pop­u­la­tion of kids who couldn’t han­dle the at­mos­phere of a hec­tic swim class with a lot of kids in the pool.”

Fitz­patrick re­viewed the idea pre­sented by Bau­man and ad­vised the City Man­ager that the Parks and Rec team could ad­min­is­ter the pro­gram.

“I am a Re­cre­ation Ther­a­pist and have done adapted aquat­ics in the past,” added Fitz­patrick. “Also, our swim staff has been work­ing with spe­cial needs par­tic­i­pants but by main­stream­ing within our cur­rent pro­grams. We do this by adding a buddy. Staff still needs a lot of train­ing which is a chal­lenge since our pool is not open year round and our staff is sea­sonal. They have been do­ing great, though, with the par­tic­i­pants. I am so proud of our in­struc­tors.”

At­tend­ing col­lege to be­come a so­cial worker, Bau­man was tak­ing a child ad­vo­cacy class and the fi­nal project in­volved us­ing ad­vo­cacy skills for the com­mu­nity.

“I think Sue was re­ally ex­cited when I said I know if we of­fer this peo­ple will join,” added Bau­man. “She cre­ated an amaz­ing pro­gram with very kind, smart in­struc­tors and I have been net­work­ing to make sure within the spe­cial needs com­mu­nity to get kid­dos into the pro­gram.”

Dur­ing the hot sum­mer months sev­eral peo­ple spend time in pools, lakes, rivers, or the ocean to stay cool. Due to statis­tics that Bau­man found in 2009, 2010, and 2011 ac­ci­den­tal drown­ing ac­counted for 91 per­cent to­tal of the U.S. deaths re­ported in chil­dren with autism ages 14 and younger and 32 per­cent of autism par­ents re­ported a “close call” with a pos­si­ble drown­ing. That prompted her to take ac­tion along with a lit­tle inspiration from her son West­ley.

“We are a com­mu­nity built on the river with over 10 miles of canals run­ning through our neigh­bor­hoods,” said Bau­man of the wa­ter dan­gers. “These are the statis­tics that keep us par­ents up at night.”

West­ley has taken swim lessons through the City of River­bank since he was two and that was top pri­or­ity for their fam­ily since they have a pool where he got to prac­tice as well.

“West­ley is part fish,” ex­pressed Bau­man. “He was con­fi­dently swim­ming with­out a life jacket by age three. Swim­ming for him has al­ways been ther­a­peu­tic, it’s re­ally the thing he loves the most. I wanted other kids to have that op­por­tu­nity. I wanted par­ents to feel safe with their kids around wa­ter.”

Bau­man shared that the fol­low­ing spon­sors helped make this pro­gram a suc­cess, River­bank Ro­tary,

Oak­dale Air and Heat­ing, Oak­dale Lock­smith, TJM Con­struc­tion, T Shirt The­ory, and the Sweesy Fam­ily and made it pos­si­ble for the kids to have team shirts and new equip­ment.

“I think the first ses­sion went re­ally good,” said Bau­man. “We got all the kids in the wa­ter and par­ents said that they felt like their kids were in a safe and car­ing environment.”

The pro­gram will wrap up this Satur­day and was held each Satur­day in the month of July for a four-week ses­sion. There were sev­eral chil­dren that par­tic­i­pated in the pro­gram that was split into two groups, with the first ses­sion swim­ming from 10 a.m. un­til 11 a.m. and the sec­ond group go­ing from 11 a.m. un­til noon.

The City pro­vides the in­struc­tors, life­guards, and equip­ment for the pro­gram. The fam­i­lies had to go through an as­sess­ment process that in­formed City staff about the par­tic­i­pants and they met with the par­ents twice be­fore the pro­gram be­gan. Staff also had time to train and pre­pare for the new pilot pro­gram.

“Main­stream­ing works out well but it is nice also for par­ents to have a choice of a spe­cial­ized pro­gram also where the environment is set up to be less stress­ful and we can bring in some adap­tive equip­ment, mu­sic, toys they like, etc.,” stated Fitz­patrick. “The City de­cided to try a “pilot pro­gram” to see how we do with a four-week pro­gram for those on the Autis­tic Spec­trum. This is re­ally not long enough but at least we could see how we do and how the fam­i­lies and par­tic­i­pants do.”

Al­though the sum­mer has been ex­tremely busy for the Parks and Rec de­part­ment with swim lessons, the swim team, and day camps, they man­aged to add the pro­gram into their sched­ule.

“I am ex­cited and so glad we tried to do this,” added Fitz­patrick.

“The par­ents are very grate­ful and I think they are happy with the pro­gram so far. The ul­ti­mate goal for us is for the kids to be com­fort­able in the wa­ter and know how to get them­selves out if needed. This takes time and we will need a lot more than four weeks but I am hop­ing we can ex­pand the pro­gram.”


The Sen­sory Sharks and Mer­maids pilot pro­gram wraps this Satur­day at the River­bank pool and kids that par­tic­i­pated spent time with coaches for a four-week ses­sion.


Each stu­dent had spe­cific goals and coaches to help them achieve them through this new pilot pro­gram.

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