Whether they’re swimming laps for physical education class or floating on noodles with friends after school, the Perkins pool gives students who are blind an opportunity to develop a lifelong love of watersports. In this “What I Do” blog post, aquatic coordinator and lifeguard Bobby Vasquez explains how he helps students have a safe, active and fun experience in the water. This story was compiled and edited by Karen Shih.
I’m very lucky here at the pool. I get to see the kids at their best – they’re always in the greatest mood. I get lots of great feedback and they’re happy the pool is open.
As the aquatic coordinator, I work with all the different educational programs. Students from Lower School, Secondary and Deafblind all come to swim. I work with facilities to maintain pool chemicals and the filtration system, and contact them if a shower’s broken or tiles need to be fixed. I also order supplies and adaptive equipment, like life jackets with wider collars, swim belts and flotation devices made of aluminum that we call “pirates.”
When the P.E. (physical education) classes are here, I’m usually lifeguarding. Sometimes teachers ask me to give the students some tips while they’re doing laps. A big part is also helping them transfer kids in and out of the water. We have to make sure it’s safe for the students and safe for the staff too. This pool is over 100 years old, and it’s surrounded by a wall. It was a great design for the strictly blind because they would feel the wall first and wouldn’t fall in. But now the population has changed, so students with multiple disabilities can’t always get over the wall independently.
I work closely with the P.E. team to make sure all of our kids get their time in the water. For some of our students with physical disabilities, this is one place where they’re getting moving and getting their heart rate up. You get to see them really enjoy a certain level of freedom and movement that most of us take for granted.
After P.E. classes during the school day, we also open the pool up for rec time in the evenings a few days a week. A lot of times the kids like to just tap a beach ball back and forth or float on the noodles. Others practice pushing off the wall or other swim skills.
During the fall, I run the swim team. We have 20 to 30 students. The only requirements are that you have to be able to swim a lap independently or with a flotation device and attend two practices a week. We go to schools like Boston College or Newton North High School for friendly meets, and we also travel to attend a big meet with other schools for the blind along the East Coast.
When I see these kids swimming, I think to myself, “Can this kid, when he graduates, go to the local Y and sign up and be a member and swim some laps? Is this something he could do in a recreational activity in a group home?” Knowing that these students will leave here and have that skill for the rest of their lives – that’s a really important part of what I do here.