Thank You, MarTar!
My experience with MarTar Swim School over the last eight years has been nothing short of exceptional.
Marty and Tara are the most dedicated, sacrificial human beings I believe I have ever met. They do anything to make sure their services are available for anyone who needs them. The love, love, love our kids, and appreciate everything about what the parents and care providers go through. They seek to provide services to help the children grow and prepare for life after the school system, and they seek ways to give parents respite time.
Their swimming and drown prevention techniques are, in my view, state of the art. My autistic and severely mentally retarded son has grown immensely under their program. Other swim programs cannot compete with what MarTar provides.
Tara is a choreographer extraordinaire -- she manages multiple schedules and calendars effortlessly, and is supremely good at matching students with instructors based on the unique needs of the students and on multiple changing calendars, client needs, instructor needs, etc. This takes effort and time and isn't easy to do, yet Tara does it every day as part of the ethic she brings into this business. She knows how important this part is because she spent 20 years as a special ed teacher in the public school system - properly matching students with instructors has always been paramount to Tara. She knows how things can go awry when this part isn't attended to properly.
They have built a state-of-the-art facility with a therapy pool, private showers, changing rooms, and a comfortable waiting area where parents/care providers can view their children as they swim. They offer family swim times, private lessons, group lessons, and offer their facility for lap swimming in conjunction with the gym next door. They hold swim camp and host birthday parties. Their excellent facility hosts other providers of care for special needs children, including "The Children's Spot," and they have available for sale many items of interest to parents of all children and special needs children, including swimming gear (bathing suits, goggles, swim diapers, outer gear, towels, etc.) and toys of all kinds, many of which have special applicability to special needs children.
They are constantly raising money for other charities. This week, for example, they hosted fund-raisers for Autism Speaks, and have established a Team that will join in on the Autism Speaks Walk fund-raiser on 25 Oct 2014. This is typical of them. They raise money constantly, even at the expense of the charity they sponsor, the Lucky Duck Foundation, Inc. (LDFI). They even took their own vacation time and personal money to fly to a poor community in the Caribbean two years ago to help that community establish a special needs swim school. In order to help others, they have written a book on special needs swim techniques - it is waiting for a publisher at this time.
Marty is a consummate professional. He is a businessman who also loves what he does and loves his clientele -- where else can one really find that? Marty and Tara both have dedicated their lives to serving the needs of special needs children and those having a fear of the water. They have a business to run, but they do it with compassion and character and faith and an irrefutable belief that their program is fundamental to the health and well-being of the special needs and water-afraid members of our community.
My son would not be who he is without MarTar. He's now 16, with the mentality of a 3-year old, but his wherewithal, strength, physical awareness, ability to listen and follow instructions, and so many other "little" things (special needs parents will understand what I mean by that) have come light years, and it has been the week-in week-out work with his MarTar instructors that have made this difference.
I am too grateful to Marty and Tara for words. They provide an invaluable service to our community, and are what we all seek to be: true humanitarians. Thank you Tara and Marty!!
Hi there! Just thought I would drop you a line and let you know the kids absolutely loved their special party night at MarTar! I was worried Evan would not understand and be upset that we left, but he seemed to do just fine! They literally flopped into bed! It usually takes 30 minutes to put Evan to sleep, and on Saturday night it took 2, mainly because he put himself to bed! They were SO tired the next day (which they deserved since they both refused to nap on Saturday) – Wyatt was curled up on the couch fighting sleep at 10 am! They both took 3 hour naps! Aside from Matt and me getting to have dinner and run errands, their state of total exhaustion was totally worth it!
"MarTar Swim School provides swim lessons to senior citizens, mature and young adults, adolescents, young children and small babies. The instructors in this swim school have made it their mission to teach students of all skill levels, they are welcoming and inclusive to everyone. Special needs students are matched up with instructors who know how to communicate with non-verbal, hearing impaired or with students who have physical or learning disabilities. The instructors are quick to assess a students needs and abilities, building a trust between student swimmer and swim instructor. The swim instructors possess a keen understanding of children who are timid in the pool. The progress my family member has made since beginning his weekly lessons has been nothing short of miraculous. It has been a rewarding and amazing experience to see how well he listens to instruction and follows hand signals. He loves going to his swim lessons and never hesitates in going into the pristinely kept 90-degree salt-water pool. Our family learned about MarTar Swim School through two families who were very happy with the progress their children made. In each case the parents had tried other swim instruction and found that their children excelled in swimming only after the MarTar instructors worked with them. Our family has been pleased with the friendly staff at MarTar and will continue lessons for the benefits of swimming and also for the physical fitness/strengthening. Students come from a varied background and many of them travel long distances to receive excellent individual or group instruction. From the very first moment entering the pool, the skillful instructors guide swimmers toward a new confidence in themselves. A large community is enhanced by MarTar Swim Schools presence and it is truly helpful that the staff keeps the facility open long hours daily."
Signed an appreciative patron,
Reflections on MarTar Swim School
My name is Vicki and I am an educational researcher currently in the USA as a visiting scholar at the University of Maryland. My husband Geoff is travelling with me. We are both actively involved in education policy and implementation in New Zealand. We are also trustees of a small diagnostic clinic for Autism/ADD/ADHD in New Zealand, and through our own family, are well aware of the benefits and challenges that arise from these traits.
Very serendipitously we met Tara and Marty on Folley’s beach near Charleston while on holiday. We began talking about education generally and special needs learners in particular and were immediately engrossed in a highly engaging conversation. It wasn’t long before we realised we had a shared interest in making the world a more welcoming and accommodating place for young (and older) learners on the Autistic spectrum and/or with ADD/ADHD. As luck would have it, we were soon heading to Washington as I was about to start my work at the University of Maryland – College Park. Given we would be nearby, Tara and Marty invited us to observe their swim school in action, an offer we gratefully accepted.
The first thing that struck us as we walked into the MarTar swim school was that this is a place focused on learning. This is not a pool to come to play. In each of the lessons we saw, the instructors showed a consistent approach which is firm and challenging and provides the students opportunity to focus on next-step-learning. Their approach also included a significant ‘ethic of care’. We were impressed by all the instructors calm and constant verbal and tactile reassurance and their skilful use of ‘pre-lesson’ patterns and rewards tailored to each individual. This allowed the students to stay ‘on task’- optimising the time for learning without sacrificing enjoyment. During our time at the school, we spoke to a number of parents and care givers committed to supporting their children to make progress in this world. They were very open with us about the value they were seeing from these classes.
We saw many examples of the instructors accommodating to different individual's needs, based not only on their skill and confidence in the water, but also on their ‘mood of the day’. This accommodation however never lost sight of the learning outcome. It appeared to us that learners had been matched with those instructors best able to work with them; considering disposition, experience and skill set.
We watched Marty providing leadership through his own instruction, but also scanning the pool to provide advice and guidance when needed. We also witnessed the other instructors watching out for each other, supporting a strategy or recommending a modification in approach. From talking further with Marty and Tara, it is clear they are constantly analysing their own and their team’s performance, and revising and refining their programme to maximise success. As Marty stated, ‘the students teach us as much as we teach them’. From an educational perspective this collegial critical reflection and on-going refinement is a strong indicator of a professional learning community.
We think that there may be something about learning in the medium of water that is significant for students with special needs. The progress we saw being made in 30 minutes is the kind of progress that normally happens far more slowly and is usually more ‘hard won’ for families with special needs members. It seemed this environment served to reduce the battle and increase the gain in ways we are very interested in. What exactly is happening and how it can be explained are areas worthy of research, and we consider this would be an excellent research site for exploring such questions.
Attending a swim school such as MarTar has much to offer students with special needs; it can prepare them to participate in water based recreation, and develop the skills and confidence for future independent water based activities and may even open up work opportunities. Of course, learning to swim may well save their lives one day. As these students learn to coordinate and gain control over their bodies, and manage their multiple anxieties, they should also gain a sense of empowerment which will support them to better realise their potential.
After hearing Tara and Marty describe their life’s work so passionately and share stories of successes, we were intrigued. After seeing the school in action, we think Tara and Marty are special people. They are creating an environment of deep ‘acceptance of difference’, and leading a group of well-trained people to work intelligently, skilfully and caringly to implement a student-focused intervention within this. There is nothing ‘miraculous’ happening here. Rather, this is the result of hard work by all, including the students, who are steadily improving in swimming competence and confidence.
In an educational world full of talk and promises, it was both refreshing and humbling to catch a glimpse of two people prepared to ‘walk the talk’. We are not experts in your field. However, we know education… and we recognise shifts in student learning and confidence. We witnessed many examples of this in the short time we observed the lessons. Shortly we will be returning to New Zealand and are currently thinking of ways to make the most of what we have learned from our MarTar experience.
Kia ora Marty and Tara… kia kaha
(Thank you, Marty and Tara, stay strong in your mission!)
~Dr Vicki Compton & Geoff Keith
Wellington, New Zealand
"On another note I wanted to give you my MarTar Testimony. Last weekend Monet was invited to go swimming with Kirsten and Emily. She really enjoyed herself. They were throwing the ball to each other. She was very comfortable swimming to get the ball. The girls all jumped in the pool together yelling "Cannon ball." Monet got out a few times and jumped in by herself (even in 5 feet). The girls had noodle races and she won a few times. Her confidence was so high she followed Emily to the diving board and wanted to jump. I stopped her because she has not been in water where her feet is not able to touch the bottom. The lessons at MarTar have given Monet a better quality of life to enjoy herself in social situations. I can't believe this is my daughter who last year Marty was prying her fingers from the lane ropes. Thank you for making a difference in our lives. The smiles and laughs from Monet brought tears to my eyes.
Have a nice day!
"I am very impressed with how their swimming has progressed. Kathryn wouldn't put her face (well didn't really like to) and now she is swimming all over the place. She is even working on her crawl stroke. Eric is also doing very well - he is all over the place. Eric loves jumping in the pool even when I'm not right there with him and swimming in the water to get rings, etc. I'm thrilled.
I owe this success to Brian's teaching and to my kid's desire to swim.
"We have used MarTar Swim School continuously for almost 10 years to teach my non-verbal, severely autistic son to swim (yes – year-round, weekly lessons for nearly 10 years). He started afraid to put his head under water and now swims four strokes, dives, and competes in Special Olympics. He would prefer to be under the water rather than out of it. We have worked with various instructors from the school over the years and each one has been dedicated to work with individuals having special needs. My son has recently started having seizures and the school has worked with us to develop a comprehensive safety plan to meet his needs if he has a seizure while in a lesson. There is no other place that I would trust to meet his swim and safety needs than at MarTar Swim School."
"My severely developmentally delayed and autistic child has attended the MarTar Swim School for 6 years and has gone from complete dependence on a teacher while in the water to near independence. Their instruction techniques appear to me to be "state of the art" in terms of how they approach the autistic and developmentally delayed children and young adults with whom they work. We've worked with several different teachers over the years. I have found each of them to be attentive, helpful, highly trained, and reliable. In my experience, the teachers seem to love their students and to find joy in teaching them and in watching them progress. The owners, Marty and Tara, have become good friends. They work their tails off running this small business in a harsh business climate, especially in that the clientele they target are a smaller segment of the population. Furthermore, it is my personal experience with them that they love these kids! They love working for and in the community -- they support charities and charity events; they aspire to teach other schools their techniques; they took their personal vacation time to help establish a similar school in a poor nation in the Caribbean; they work hard to create a reliable, responsible climate for parents and caregivers; and they have even adopted a road (litter control) near the school! One thing I will offer about how they conduct their business is this: special needs parents are used to unpredictability and to needing to change at a moment's notice. I need these things myself for my child and, at times, simply for me. However, having watched the what I will call the true choreography that occurs by Tara and her staff as they manage multiple special clients having multiple and varied needs and idiosyncrasies, and knowing that this very special school is also a business facing real bills, deadlines, etc., I am firstly amazed at how efficiently and effectively they manage the individual student swim schedules (matching students with teachers having skills in certain areas, certain personality strengths, etc., all while also running daily camps, holding birthday parties, and myriad other activities). Secondly, I am very aware of their limits. They can be only so flexible with the many varied and constantly occurring changes endemic to their very special student population. I believe they do their best within the realm of the possible, and also the realm of common sense (business and otherwise). I miss lessons on a periodic basis due to my child's issues, but consider any monetary loss a contribution to a good cause. It is very similar to day care: you pay for a slot whether your child goes or not. Day care providers, for example, generally cannot take the business risk of allowing all care to be pro-rated. Neither can this very important institution in our community. I sign my child up for each session knowing that I am committing, in a business sense, to a date/time that is agreed to and generally set. Asking the school to change with my child's constantly changing needs would be asking them to take on business risk any small business simply could not afford. In an attempt to mitigate the impact on special needs families, they do offer specials that allow some number of make up lessons - I believe one may inquire with Marty and Tara about those if interested. Lastly, when you work with MarTar you work with the staff but also with the owners. They are there with you, for you, day in and day out. In spite of my child's behaviors (to include vomiting in the pool, pooping on the deck, etc.), not once has an owner or a staff member even flinched. They take it all in stride, as one would expect of those who want to work with kids like ours. Bottom line: There are ups and downs in any situation involving physical therapy, etc. for young people like ours. In the end, I would highly recommend the MarTar Swim School."
"We have been customers of MarTar Swim School intermittently for 3 years. My 9 year old son with Down syndrome had significant safety issues surrounding the water as well as anxiety about floating. MarTar helped us navigate these issues successfully. He is now swimming recreationally without a life vest, wants to swim underwater & gets off the bus on his lesson day shouting "time to go swimming, Mommy!" MarTar is also educating my typical 5 year old son & he is learning at a rapid pace! As a parent it is a logistical relief to be able to take both kids to the same place for a service that my older son needs, knowing that the younger son is also learning. In reference to some other reviews, I can understand frustration as a parent to not be able to flex your child's swim lessons based on other personal commitments that pop up at times. But, this is a business & the guideslines are not different than at most daycare centers. The instructors & the owners have hours & other clients that need to be respected. Our youngest son (3) will be starting soon! Hope to see you there!"
"Today, both of my sons can swim, and it is entirely thanks to MarTar! My oldest started out his first swim lesson under a table, clinging to the legs and screaming... which is not something any mother wants to see. Did MarTar stop and say, "Sorry, we can't teach him."? NO they did not. I think within 10 weeks he was HAPPILY swimming the length of the pool! Many instructors and swim schools would not have known how to deal with a child like that, but MarTar did. They knew exactly how to reach him, not only that but then they instilled a life-long love of the water and swimming into him. What more could you ask?? As if that experience weren't enough, MarTar welcomed me again when I brought my younger son to the baby class, then later for swim lessons. He was not only autistic but non-verbal (he couldn't say anything) and very young (2 or 3). Once again, MarTar rose to the challenge and not only taught him water safety and how to swim, but gave him the same life long love of the water that they gave his brother. Before MarTar I had wondered if my boys would ever learn to swim, because I thought I would never find a special educator who knew autism AND swimming. Luckily, I found MarTar! After our MarTar experience, I never again worried about my boys around water, in hotels, at friends houses, at waterparks, or in our own backyard pool. I know that they will enjoy the water for the rest of their lives, thanks to MarTar."