Tag Archives: kids

Learning To Swim Offers Benefits Beyond Safety

by on March 3, 2016

swim lessons special needs pjcc

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swimming is the fourth most popular sports activity in the United States. However, this is countered with the sobering statistic provided by the National Autism Association which  states that drowning is the leading cause of death among children in the autism spectrum. No question, learning how
to swim can indeed be a lifesaving skill set. However, for children with special needs, swimming offers the additional benefit of providing what can be an especially empowering and exhilarating experience in a positive setting. From developing gross motor and cognitive skills to
building strength and endurance, swimming fosters courage, confidence and trust. It’s also a social skill that helps cultivate friendships. Then, of course, there’s the physical benefit that all
swimmers enjoy: a low-impact, cardiovascular workout that tones muscles, increases endurance, and helps reduce risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
This makes swimming not just a safety skill, but a life skill to enjoy through the ages.

Thriving, In The Water  And Out 

A Student Discovers Swimming Skills That Extend  Beyond The Pool

The young man glides seamlessly through the water with PJCC swim instructor Laurie Gardner at his side, telling him to, “kick, stroke, kick, and breathe!” Now 16, Connor Kitayama has been taking private swim lessons with Laurie since 2007. His mother, La Donna Ford, initially enrolled her son, who has autism, for swim lessons, but she soon discovered that the lessons also served a valuable role as occupational therapy.

“Connor is an excellent athlete in general, but swimming exposed several unsuspected weaknesses,” says La Donna. “Since using certain body movements is so challenging, he must focus intently to master strokes. I see swimming as a lifelong leisure skill with the bonus benefits of built-in therapy.”

When Connor first started taking lessons as an eight-year old, he wouldn’t get his face wet and could only manage a weak dog paddle despite previous swim lessons at other venues. But over
the years, his proud mother has observed her son blossoming both in the pool and out. Today the young man sports exceptional balance and hand-eye coordination and adores water sports like swimming, jet skiing, kayaking, and wake surfing.

“I’ve watched Connor gain confidence as his swimming progresses,” she says. “His frustration tolerance is much better. For Connor, a lot of life is hard to understand, but he’s learned that through a lot of work, he can improve, and this attitude has extended beyond the pool. Going to a place he likes makes the rest of the week easier,” she adds. “He has something fun to look forward to. He’s also learned to take instruction from different teachers with different vocabulary, which has been an invaluable lesson.”

La Donna credits Laurie Gardner’s teaching skills for her son’s transformation. Laurie, who has been with the PJCC since 2004, has Bachelor of Science degrees in pre-med biology and pychology. She started out as a general swim instructor but began teaching private lessons when she encountered people with special needs who wanted to learn how to swim. Today, her students range from children with Down syndrome and autism to adults who are quadriplegic or have cerebral palsy.

“We feel blessed to have found Laurie, whose patience and belief in Connor has taken him from a poor dog paddler who didn’t pay attention, to a focused teen whose swimming skills continue to impress,” La Donna says. “Swimming at the PJCC has been great for Connor to learn how to act more appropriately socially. It’s also been good for others to understand that there are pople who are wired differently, but we all inhabit the same world.”

To learn about group and private swim lessons for children and adults, please call 650.378.2782, email aquatics@pjcc.org, or visit pjcc.org/aquatics.




Edible Schoolyard: Inspiration For A Lifetime

by on August 25, 2015

Bring something beautiful to the classroom. Bring a bouquet, set things up differently with a beautiful table cloth and a lovely basket of fruit. Prepare the classroom, the kitchen and the garden, so kids fall in love. –  Alice Waters /Founder, Edible Schoolyard Academy

I was filled with excitement as I made my way across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley, about to fulfill lifetime dream: attending the Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Academy (ESY). As a wellness/
nutrition coach for the PJCC, I was one of three given the incredible honor of representing the PJCC to help develop a nutrition and food awareness curriculum for local elementary schools. Our motivation came from California State Senator Jerry Hill D-San Mateo when he visited the PJCC’s Justice Garden. Impressed with our endeavor to promote food justice and education, the Senator expressed his support in helping the PJCC share our curriculum with local elementary schools. Garnering the tools for creating this curriculum was our goal at ESY.

Helping Healthy Habits Take Root
The Edible Schoolyard (ESY) program teaches youngsters how their choices about food affect their health, the environment, and their communities. Now in its 17th year, ESY is the brainchild of Alice Waters, the chef/proprietor of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. Waters is a passionate voice and pioneer in the culinary movement that supports cooking with only the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally. Housed at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, the abandoned teachers’ parking lot was once a neighborhood eyesore, but today is home to a lush and meandering one-acre garden and kitchen/classroom. Students are actively involved in every aspect of food’s life cycle, from planting a seed in the garden and preparing simple meals in the kitchen to using the food waste to produce rich compost to nourish the plants. These essential life skills are priceless and have made the ESY the model program for farm-to-table education. “Farm to school” is a term that defines school efforts to incorporate local and regionally produced foods into school cafeterias. In 2011-2012, a USCA survey of 13,000 public school districts showed that 44 percent across the country have such a program in place. This is exciting news, but in a country where child obesity is on the rise, we still have a long way to go.

Go Slow and Go Deep
ESY educates the educators: the more ambassadors on the front lines, the better to reach the children. At the academy alone, there were over 90 enthusiastic attendees from around the world. However, we were cautioned to “Go slow and go deep.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was the ESY. We should start small, in a corner of the playground or in a few gardening
pots outside a classroom. Let the kids get their hands dirty. Appeal to all their senses, with the taste, smell, sound and sight of fresh produce grown with care and prepared simply.

From ESY to the PJCC
I’m excited to bring my ESY education to the PJCC. When I spoke with Alice Waters, I asked if she had any additional advice as we begin introducing ESY concepts to our students. “I always say we need to work with kids in kindergarten through grade 12,” she replied. “But what I really mean is, get to them at age two. Start at this age and you have them for life.”

The PJCC is always on the lookout for ways to incorporate healthy habits into everyday life. We adopted the Discover CATCH program into our childrens’ programming. CATCH, an acronym for Coordinated Approach to Childhood Health, is an educational program created by University of Texas School of Public Health in response to the rising obesity epidemic in our country. CATCH uses a combination of kid’s nutrition and fitness activities as tools to teach children how to lead healthy and active lives. Recently, the Jewish Community Center Association adopted Discover CATCH, an expansion of CATCH that allows children to explore physical activity and nutrition through Jewish values, instilling healthy habits in children and their families for wellness their way.

Summer Parfait

by on July 17, 2015

recipe pjcc parfait

This ultimate summer dessert is light, delicious, and bursting with fruit.


  • 2 cups of sliced strawberries or other fruit of choice
  • 1 pint or 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar (more or less to taste)
  • ½ cup blueberries, raspberries or fruit of choice for topping


To make whipped cream:

  1. Pour the heavy cream into the cooled bowl. Using a hand mixer, whip the cream over medium/high speed until it begins to thickened.
  2. Increase the speed to high and continue to whip until medium peaks form.
  3. Turn off the mixer and add the confectioners’ sugar.
  4. Whip again on low speed until the confectioners’ sugar is mostly combined. Increase the speed to high and whip until completely thickened and the mixture forms stiff peaks. Refrigerator until ready to use.

To assemble parfaits:

  1. Place a small spoonful of whipped cream on the bottom of each ice cream cone then add a small spoonful of chopped strawberries, pushing the berries down into the whipped cream. Continue to layer strawberries and cream until you reach the top of the cone with a cream layer – (two or three layers).
  2. Garnish with a raspberry and blueberries or fruit of choice.
  3. Makes 16 ice cream cones.


S’mores 2.0

by on May 4, 2015

S’mores are traditionally a part of the Jewish holiday Lag B’Omer. When you have a holiday that includes having a bonfire, you know s’mores have to be a part of it!  But, personally, I could eat these all year long.  Chocolate. Marshmallows. Graham crackers. Why not?

If you are looking for a more modern twist on an old favorite, here are some upgrades to your go-to campfire dessert , the s’more!

Baked S’more Cups
By Mindi Cherry

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Dear New Kindergarten Mom

by on September 3, 2014

Dear New Kindergarten Mom,

This morning, I bundled my boys into the stroller and went out for one last impromptu morning walk. Max will be starting kindergarten next week, and the days spent hanging out in our jammies and meandering to the nearest park or Starbucks are almost over. My best friend texted me a picture of her own 5-year-old a few minutes later, standing in front of his new elementary school. “How did we get here?!” I texted back. It was yesterday that we were pregnant together. Visiting the fire station with toddlers together. Welcoming second babies together. “How did we get here?!”

Well, Mama, I want you to take a break from packing lunches and tucking pencils into binders. Continue reading

Summer Fun Safety Tips

by on May 27, 2014

smiley-pool-girl-625by Seth Hazen, PJCC Aquatics Manager

Here are my top 5 tips for both keeping safe in the sun and at the pool.

With summer fast approaching this is a great time to start preparing for fun in the sun!

1. The sun’s UV rays are strongest from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm during the day. Make sure if you are out in the sun during this time period you take frequent breaks to relax in the shade and allow your skin a break from direct sunlight. If you don’t have access to shade, don’t be caught without a shirt! Even blocking the rays with a shirt will give you a much needed Continue reading

Top 5 Reasons To Keep Your Kids Active

by on February 13, 2014


The habits we form as children are sure to either haunt us or help us into adulthood. So, it is very important to provide kids with the decision making tools they need to lead a healthy and active life.

Below are just a few of the reasons to help our children eat wisely and stay active.

1. Active kids develop locomotor, non-locomotor, and manipulative skills when they engage in age-appropriate exercise.
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