When it comes to swimming, Dena Sikole is dedicated to helping local kids feel like fish in water, no matter their ability level.
Sikole has been an adapted physical education teacher for 30 years, with the last 16 spent teaching in Lewis-Palmer School District. During that time, she has worked with special education students, making physical activities and sports more accessible and conquerable for kids of all ages and abilities. Swimming is among the sports she teaches, with the adapted programs typically lasting six to eight weeks at a time. But the benefits stretch beyond a semester, according to Sikole.
“They are learning water safety, and it’s a life-long recreation/activity,” she said. “This is something we can all do until we’re 80 or older.”
D-38’s adapted swimming classes are held at Safesplash, near Bass Pro Shops in Northgate. Sikole and her staff have most recently been working with students from Kilmer Elementary School.
“We teach them all the basic skills,” Sikole said, “ (from) floating on their back to being able to tread water. We teach them front curls and back strokes. And if they are able to swim underwater, we teach them the breast stroke. We start with their strengths and try to refine them.”
Third-grader Jonny Simon recently received a trophy for competing his required class criteria. Simon was overjoyed at his success and shared his excitement for his accomplishment the week of his birthday.
“I just turned 9 yesterday,” he said, smiling. “I had an ice cream cake. It was great.”
Other students participating in the adapted swim program require quite a bit of personal attention before they even feel comfortable in the water.
“We’ve got kids who don’t like taking baths or showers,” Sikole said. “They get here and they have the opportunity to change clothes and become independent.
“We want them to become ... active in the community. We’re not just teaching them swimming. We’re teaching them life skills that will carry on long beyond this activity.”
The district does fund the adaptive programs, and Sikole writes grants for extra funding to support enhancements to the program, like off-site activities.
“A huge supporter is the Monument Hill Kiwanis Club,” she said. “They’ve been doing it forever. And the Tri-Lakes Women’s Club has also been invaluable. And also Safesplash.”
Jennifer Anaya is a D-38 special education instructor who is also invaluable to the success of the swimming program and other adapted P.E. curriculum.
“The focus of most academics for students in my classroom is geared towards functional/life skills,” Anaya said. “We learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but it’s applied in a way that relates to practical life skills.
“Adapted P.E. is yet another way to prepare students for the world. It teaches them about hidden curriculum in their community and enables them the opportunity to experience those skills in real-life terms.”
Anaya believes the hands-on experiences the kids encounter are valuable to their growth into successful adults.
“The classroom can only mimic so much, but the community field trips afford them the opportunity to advance social skills, self-regulation, self-awareness and coping skills,” she said. “It also benefits the community through exposure, and allows (students) to identify and be part of their community. This leads to an increased comfort level for both the students and the community. It allows students to start building those relationships now while learning and growing.”