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Sandy Journal

Jordan Valley pool reopens during pandemic, staff provides therapy in water to students

Apr 22, 2021 11:10AM ● By Julie Slama

Adapted PE teacher Ashley Raucci works with Miles Askvig, while Ahmed Hmedia gets help from physical therapy assistant Elise Tautkus; they are helping the wheelchair-bound students with their range of motion in the recently reopened Jordan Valley pool. (Donata Trussell/Jordan Valley)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

After nine months being closed for COVID-19, Jordan Valley School’s pool opened to provide physical therapy to students.

While in a typical year, about 95 students would use the physical therapy pool, this year, it is more restrictive, with about 20 having access, including 13 of those non-ambulatory students.

Jordan Valley students have severe multiple disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, communication impairments, genetic disorders and syndromes, deaf–blindness and students who are extremely medically fragile. The goal at Jordan Valley School is to improve the quality of life for students, age 5 to 22, and their families.

“We’re helping stretch muscles in the water that is about 103-104 degrees so we can help them facilitate their range of motion,” said adapted PE instructor Ashley Raucci, who added that during the closure, mechanical issues, including the pool’s pump and chlorine system were fixed in the 46-year-old pool. 

While following safety and health guidelines during the pandemic, Jordan Valley physical therapy and adapted PE staff serves students in the water from four classes separately. Each student is given one-on-one attention in the water and tailored exercises to their abilities during their 30-minute session, she said.

The 15-yard by 10-yard pool has a ramp and step entryway as well as a gurney to assist students into and out of the water. While this time gives wheelchair-bound students a chance to be non-weight bearing and stretch their muscles outside of their chairs, it also allows some who are walking with walkers or are more flexible a chance to have exercise with flotation devices in shallow water, Raucci said.

“Some students may have their fingers, hips or knees contracted; by being in the water, we’re able to work with them on their range of motion,” she said.

These students are able to push water for water resistance or kick upward on their backs, so their feet don’t hang down or even float, Raucci said.

However, it isn’t as easy as asking them to do a certain stretch that is illustrated on signage on the pool deck.

“A lot of the kids are non-verbal. Some use devices or sign language, but we work with them and their body language and reactions,” she said. “Most of the kids love to be in the water; they love the sensation. They’re calm since the water is so warm.”

Raucci said that the pool experience isn’t just clinical.

“We talk, we play, we joke and laugh. I was even dancing with a student and making the exercises entertaining. We know each other,” she said, adding that while she, and other faculty and staff wear masks in the building, students have seen photos of them all without them so they’re able to relate to one another. Jordan Valley students do not wear masks.

In a typical year, these students may be in the water typically for an hour each session while other students in the school who are more ambulatory may be in the pool twice per week, 30 minutes each period.

For those students who are able, it also gives them a chance to practice other life skill lessons such as showering and dressing.

However, with keeping classes separate and needing time to sanitize the pool deck and equipment, time is restricted.

While some students either have adapted PE twice per week or others have adapted PE and a physical therapy, or pool time, once per week, Raucci said that she and colleague, Jinger Yawn, received a PTA grant earlier in the year to put together PE wagons for each of the classrooms.

“We came up with other ways they can do exercises on their own and use it in their classroom or outside. We put in sensory balls, bean bags, ribbons, beach balls, basketballs, playground balls and activities they can do with them if it’s just for a brain-break or for their own PE time,” she said. 

While those wagons have provided additional support, Raucci said she is grateful the pool reopened for her students.

“It’s an awesome place; we’re so glad they’re able to get in,” she said. “The students benefit so much, in a huge way.”