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      Paddling the way to a new level of communication

      Special education teacher Chris Vicenzi has a passion for his job. He teaches a class of severely cognitively impaired students, and sometimes that can make communication a challenge. But, now he's found a place where those barriers almost disappear.

      "When you're in the water with students, big things are happening," says Vicenzi. "The most difficult part of my job is the communication barrier, and the water opens up a gateway of communication. I can understand if they're happy, if they're excited."

      Seeing the immediate effects, Vicenzi became a certified lifeguard so pool time could be a regular reality.

      "Just being in the water alone has a great amount of therapeutic values," Vicenzi, sitting the balance and coordination skills the students are practicing, said.

      Now, with the help of the YMCA and Bay Cliff Health Camp, Marquette Senior High School is hosting an adaptive water therapy program.

      "Sometimes they struggle with understanding words so what we do instead is give them the opportunity to actually hold the paddle and get them seated in the kayak, get them on the water, and you can see them tipping back and forth, getting engaged," says YMCA kayak instructor Sam Crowley.

      Students with developmental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and autism, get time in the pool to swim and even learn to kayak. To make it all possible, they'll do things like take standard kayaks and adapt them. In one kayak, they installed a back rest and extra padding so it could be used by anyone.

      "You see a smile come onto their face. They're engaged, they're moving, they're paddling," Crowley says.

      The YMCA has donated three kayak instructional sessions to the school. Twenty kayaks and adaptive equipment were made possible through a grant to the YMCA. The YMCA holds regular adaptive classes at their Marquette facility.

      Vicenzi plans to become a certified adaptive kayaking instructor so the lessons can continue at the school year-round.