School can be loud, light, sometimes even smelly, which means a student’s senses can get overwhelmed.
At Hucrest Elementary School, students have the option of going to the Sensory Room in an auxiliary building near the playground.
“Sometimes we’ve stimulated them beyond the point of being a good learner,” Hucrest Elementary Principal Doug Freeman said, adding that the world we’re in has a lot of visuals, noise, and a “hustle and bustle” that overstimulates more and more people.
“It’s not a punishment, it’s about how to help them be ready to be good learners,” he said.
The sensory room has several items that are calming to students, such as a sequin pillow, teddy bears, a rocking chair, a canoe pillow, a swing, water features and a box filled with rice. Students can take any of these items, set a five minute timer, and calm their senses.
“It centers the body, the mind and it centers them as a person,” said Michelle Chrisenberry, the instructional aide in the sensory room. adding that sometimes it doesn’t even take five minutes for a student to be ready to return to their classroom.
While the room has activities designed to help stimulate the senses for students who lack energy, the needs of the students this year has been predominantly calming after being overstimulated — which can be done in a variety of ways.
“Some need fine motor skill tools to help them while they are in the process of learning; others need more gross motor skill work to ready themselves for learning,” Freeman said. “For example, we have weighted vests or a tool we have in the Sensory Room called a canoe that allows a student to envelope himself or herself in as it is a blow-up kind of fabric canoe that allows the student a private calming moment with some slight pressure from the canoe folding around. Hucrest has many different tools in their sensory toolbox for students.”
Although Chrisenberry pointed out that there have been students in the past in need of getting energy up before starting the school day, who would start by jumping on a small trampoline in the sensory room.
Carol Latall was the instructional aide in the Sensory Room last year and both Latall and Chrisenberry received praise from Special Education Teacher PJ Elliott.
“Not everyone can see a students’ behavior as a call to let us know that their emotional needs are not being met,” Elliott said. “These two get it.”
The space was created at Hucrest Elementary three years ago when the school received $5,000 to buy items for the sensory room. Since then it has grown in size and each classroom now has a toolbox full of fidgets to help students maintain their focus.
Students aren’t assigned to the sensory room, but are aware that it is available to them when the need arises. Teachers will also refer students to the room if they feel there’s a need.
“In my opinion it’s not a luxury, but a need for the 21st century student,” Freeman said.
The Sensory Room is just part of the social emotional learning that takes place at the elementary school. Students also participate in morning meetings and are taught to recognize emotions.