Perhaps none of the giggling children splashing around the pool will ever become Olympic champions. But if aquatic instructor Jerome Brock and his assistant Eddie Tardy have their way, each child will experience a sense of achievement before leaving the Aquatics Intervention Program.
Since 1977, Brock and Tardy have used the unique swimming program at Washington Highland Community School, 8th and Yuma streets SE, to provide social and physical therapy to handicapped District youths.
"This was the first program. I was the guinea pig," laughed the jovial Brock, a Dunbar High School swimming star who completed college on a swimming scholarship.
Today, encouraged, by Broc's success, the District has three aquatic intervention programs and "I wish we had ten of these," said Dr. Ellen Grief, associate director of one of the three programs.
"Our largest group is the learning disabled, the slow learners," Brock explained. The program also serves mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, blind and visually impaired youths who are entering the public school system after spending some time in special education schools. Approximately 42 children, ages 7 to 15, participate in two 90-minute sessions, four days a week.
The week aim of the program, according to Brock, is to help disabled youth develop confidence and excel at some activity. Lessons include swimming, water safety, cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes, and water games to develop motor skills such as eye and hand coordination.
Learning, however, is not confined to the pool. Black history lessons, ecology games, math lessons and weekly essasy on environmental subjects are also required.
Parents are informed of their children's progress at PTA meetings, special events, weekly visits to the home by Brock and an annual water show.
"I get to be a pain sometime," Brock admitted about his insistence on meeting weekly with the parents. "But when you're dealing in the water it's very important to let parents know their children are in good hands."
Despite the program's apprarent success, funding remains a problem, Brock said.
In 1978, the three citywide programs received a total of $125,000 in special education funds to pay six instructors, said Grief. No funds are provided for the extracurricular activities, she said.
"They really need some discretionary spending funds, just anotehr $2,000 a year," Grief said. "We're getting postive reports from the parents now."
To supplement the meager budget, funds are solicited from instructors and parents, Brock said.
Equipment is burrowed from other programs, such as the Red Cross, and even flowers awarded to youths during the annual water show are wild-flowers growing around the city.
"All the money we get we have to beg, borrow and five-finger discount," Brock joked.
While some of the equipment may be primitive, the results are first-rate, according to Grief and parents.
On a recent afternoon, Dorothy Young, the mother of a 17-year-old suffering from sickle cell anemia, visited the pool to say hello and bring Brock a snack.
Young described the annual water show as a neighborhood family event. But most of all, she talked about the academic and social progress her son Charles has made in the past three years.
Charles, who is hospital-bound more often than he is at home, has also been a special inspiration to the instructors, Brock said. Last year, the class, designed a get well card for Charles, and decided to make it a practice to send the card to other students when they are ill. The outside of the card reads, "Heard you were feeling a little green around the gills." Inside it says, "Hurry and get well so you can get back into the swim of things."
"He couldn't even stand water before he got into the program," Charles' mother said. In 1978, he was named most improved swimmer and student of the year.
The most remarkable change, she said, has occurred outside the pool.
"His friends would always do everything and he would have to come inside because he gets tired so easily," she said softly. "Now, by saying he can swim he can compete with them. It makes all the difference in the world that he can do something." CAPTION: Picture 1, Jerome Brock, far left, and Eddy Tardy, far right, aquatics instructors, join in water volleyball.; Picture 2, Tardy, left, and Brock, right, show two students some breathing techniques. Photos by Craig Herndon-The Washington Post