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Education for all: 'Squid School' provides swim lessons for all ages and all needs

Jennifer Yttrie (left), an Education for All Squid School instructor, watches as 15-year-old Alexis Katterhagen, who has non-verbal autism, picks up an iPad during her swim lesson. The iPad, with its waterproof case, is dropped to the bottom of the pool and Alexis, who at one time would not dunk under the water, will now go underwater to retrieve the device. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 1 / 4
Matt Hawkins (right) and his daughter, 20-month-old Clare, play catch in the water during Clare's swimming lesson. Clare's instructor, Tammy Yttrie of Eduction for All Squid School, helps out. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 2 / 4
Tammy Yttrie (left) and her daughter, Jennifer Yttrie, both wearing red shirts, teach a toddler/parent swim class at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria. These toddlers are learning how to do the back float. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 3 / 4
Alexis Katterhagen (right) is shown with her instructor, Jennifer Yttrie, in the pool at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center. Alexis, who has non-verbal autism, is attracted to the water, and her parents wanted her to take swimming lessons to help keep her safe. Alexis takes classes through Education for All Squid School, which specializes in lessons for those with special needs. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 4 / 4

Three years ago, Alexis Katterhagen couldn't float on her back, whether in a pool or in a lake. The 15-year-old, despite being attracted to the water, would never dunk under and get her face wet. And, she always had to have a lifejacket on because she likes to wander, especially around water.

Until now.

Alexis, the daughter of Amy and Mike Katterhagen of Alexandria, has been taking swim lessons through Education for All Squid School. Alexis has non-verbal autism.

Her mom, Amy, said she has been thoroughly impressed with her daughter's instructors, Tammy and Jennifer Yttrie, a mother-daughter duo who started Education for All Squid School about three years ago.

"They have the patience, the training and the tools to teach my daughter," said Amy Katterhagen. "They know how push Alexis and they know when to back off. We are very lucky to have them in our area."

Katterhagen believes that it is so important for kids with autism to not only learn how to swim, but also to learn life-saving skills for when they are near water.

"I can't believe how far she (Alexis) has come already," Katterhagen said. "She is now more comfortable in the water, not only emotionally but also socially, and that is a big deal."

Amy and Mike's second child, 12-year-old Dylan, also takes lessons with Jennifer and Tammy.

Squid School

Jennifer and Tammy Yttrie opened Education for All Squid School, which is a member of the United States Swim School Association, in 2015. The duo provide all levels of Red Cross CPR, First Aid, defibrillator and lifeguard training, as well as swim lessons for all ages, from two-month-olds all the way to senior citizens.

"When we say education for all, we mean it," said Jennifer Yttrie. "It doesn't matter what challenges you have or if some of your body parts don't work like they should, we can teach you. We teach swimming lessons in addition to life-saving skills."

The lessons are mainly taught in hotel pools, but Tammy said they will give lessons in a lake as well. The Yttries are actually hoping to one day build their own facility. They have started a GoFundMe page, Squid School Chlorine Free Pool, to help raise funds to build a facility that would include three modpod-style pools the size of three semi trailers.

The pools, according to Jennifer, will be chlorine- and salt-free, which she says is safer for those with breathing issues, fragile skin and an array of other health issues. The pools will be handicapped-accessible. They are hoping to build the facility between Alexandria and Osakis.

Although Squid School is open to anyone and everyone, Tammy and Jennifer specialize in training people with special needs. They said many swim instructors are not trained to teach those with special needs, especially children with autism.

"Too many kids were falling outside the box," said Tammy. "There aren't many instructors who have had training in special needs. There was a huge need for it and so we decided to do it."

And that is where the "squid" part of their name comes from.

Tammy explained that squids are "wickedly smart, very resourceful and are also elusive" and that special needs children fit all three of those categories.

"Squids are also very touchable," she said, "just like those with special needs."

The mother and daughter attend regular training sessions. They said some swim instructors, once trained, do not attend continuing education classes, but they feel it is extremely important and will continue to do research and attend education seminars.

Over the past three years, the mother-daughter team has found that teaching their students how to float, instead of just tread water, is a valuable life-saving skill.

They said treading water has always been the go-to teaching method, but they found floating to be more effective. Treading water tends to tire people out, whereas floating doesn't take much energy. And, they said, not everyone is a natural at floating. People have to be taught that skill.

"There is a lot of body mechanics and science behind floating," said Jennifer.

Although Squid School is based in the Alexandria and Osakis areas, Jennifer and Tammy said they also teach lessons in Wadena, Little Falls, Sauk Centre, Baxter and Cold Spring. They are open to teaching in other areas, as long as they have enough clients.

To learn more about school, visit the Education for All Squid School Facebook page or send an email to education4allmn@yahoo.com.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. She enjoys running and has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon distances.

(320) 763-1242
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