By MiriYam Judd, Shalom New Haven Intern
The first thing Amanda Konieczny tells the parents of her students is this: “Your kids have just the same amount of potential to get to the end as any other child.”
For almost ten years now, Konieczny has been teaching swimming to students with adaptive disabilities. Her students’ limitations can range from high-functioning autism to children with cerebral palsy, motor skill disorders, hearing loss, vision impairment, or sensory issues. She teaches a wide range of ages; currently her students range from 6 months old to 70 years!
Konieczny moved to Connecticut from Western Massachusetts, where she taught at the local YMCA while attending college. After being offered a job in her field of engineering, she moved to Connecticut, and began teaching swimming at the Milford YMCA and then at the JCC of Greater New Haven. She already had extensive knowledge in teaching children with adaptive needs, and believes that the most important part of what she does is making connections with the students: “as long as you can make that connection, well, everything else will work out.” She explained that every teacher has a will to help students; that nobody becomes a teacher if they don’t want to see the students succeed.
So how do lessons for students with adaptive needs differ from those without? “Maybe I have to explain it more than I would to someone without adaptive needs, or maybe I have to repeat myself more often.” For kids with motor skill disorders, she might need to take their arms or legs and move them in accordance with the stroke they’re learning to help them attain the level of muscle memory they need.
While Konieczny has taught group lessons in the past, these classes are, more often than not, private. “It wouldn’t be a good idea to put a child with high-functioning autism in a class with someone who is more low-functioning.” While she has taught groups with children who have slightly similar abilities, at the JCC all her classes are private. “Group lessons could be a possibility for future programming,” she went on.
When it comes down to it, the needs of the students play a small part in how difficult it might be to teach them. “If a student really wants to learn, and I can help bring them to that next level, I don’t view it as a challenge.” Konieczny doesn’t view teaching students with adaptive needs as any more rewarding than teaching those without: “The most rewarding part, for me, is the teaching in general. It doesn’t really matter who I’m teaching. Seeing the smile on the student’s face makes it all worth it.”
The JCC strives to be inclusive and welcoming to people of all abilities. In a partnership with the Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, the JCC serves as a job training site where adults with developmental and social differences have the opportunity to work in various JCC departments. Additionally, as part of “Chapel Haven Open Choices,” activities are offered once a week for individuals to use the gym, swim in the pool, and challenge themselves on the climbing wall. The JCC is also accessible to individuals with physical limitations. Spacious showers accommodate wheelchairs in the spa area, and there is a wheelchair ramp into the swimming pool and a lift into the whirlpools in the spa. The building’s elevator also allows JCC visitors to easily access each floor.