“Snap, Crackle, Pop.”
Most children pay little attention to the amount of sound or even light in a room, but the children in Anna Whitt and Crystal McCain’s classroom may very well. These are Portsmouth Elementary teachers who teach children with multiple disabilities.
Their classes consist of grades kindergarten through fourth grade students with different needs. They have students with autism, hearing impaired, and visual impairments; just a variety of needs.
A sensory room is defined as a special room, designed to develop a person’s sense, usually through special lighting, music, and objects. It can be used as a therapy for children. “Sensory Room” is characterized by spaces specifically designed and utilized to promote self-organization and positive change.
Their needs have gotten higher, so their units had more kids in them and they were trying to figure out how to better meet their needs, because doing it by themselves is a difficult job. At the end of the school year, they got together and thought about combining their classrooms. They wanted to create a big sensory room, to meet the behavioral and social needs of their students. It would also help students needing help in gross motor and fine motor skills.
They were sitting in a meeting with a kid that was going to have a pretty rough time, a very emotional student. Crystal is in her eleventh year and Jessica is in her third year of teaching. They needed to know what they needed to be successful and how their rooms could be set up, because they were not set up for a blind student etc. There were a lot of kids, a lot of bodies, so the question for them was, how can we fix that?
“We saw this idea floating around Facebook on a YouTube video and it was in an area, we don’t know where. Our room is not just like theirs, our lighting is different and other things throughout the room are different, but it gave us the idea,” said both of them. “We got together because we had to raise a bunch of money before the next school year. We raised over $4,000 this summer.
“We sold T-shirts and we did a crossfit fundraiser-with crossfit alpha pack. Alpha pack is a crossfit gym, and they brought all their equipment to the track and we had a little crossfit competition. We put an online signup and adults from all different kind of gyms and some administrators and former administrators signed up for the competition. We also did a Facebook fundraiser, where whoever donated the most, got to pie one of us in the face. And then, we had some very generous people who donated for it from the community.”
They did this with the backing of their principal Beth Born, and assistant principal, Josh Morris. They met with Born and Charles Kent, their director of special education, plus their school psychologist at that time, Amy Gerald.
The ladies said that they kind of threw this out to them. It was kind of crazy and they weren’t quite sure how they’d take it. They let them do a trial run the last two weeks at the end of the year to see how it would flow. It went well so they were given the permission to go for it.
Take into consideration that these two ladies did most of the building of this sensory room this summer on their own time. They said they had been working several weeks from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., each day. McCain said this was an undertaking for sure.
The ladies have worked almost around the clock and have had help with Born coming and locking up for them, when they worked late and Ralph, who is in charge of all facilities. He brought in things and make sure things are hooked up right, like the swings, everyone has went out of their way to make sure all this happened.
They ended up getting a donation or two that put them over budget, fundraising wise. With this, they were able to add wobble stools, an exercise bike and a little treadmill, used if a student is really running on energy, they can try them on that.
Entering this new room, one will notice that regular florescent lights are turned off and they have small blue lights running around the ceiling in the room, which is to be calming for the students.
They have on one side of the room, a section with a mat, where they work on gross motor skills, like frog jumps for coordination. Their balancing area looks like hats lined on the floor, where they can work on balancing. They also have a student who will be coming, who is blind. This will be an opportunity for him to maneuver around objects.
This room also has a calming side, it has texture panels that the student can can feel when they want. They even have a swings. A lot of their kids like to swing.
There is so much more like a little hideout by the corner, that has a curtain, where a student can be completely be alone. They have another swing that is kind of a hideout, as it has cloth that sort of wraps around the student, giving them a hugging sensation.
They have big green bouncy balls that they can bounce around on and pull on some knob things. There are lava lamps, and lighted fake fish tanks that one cannot take their eyes off of, because of the pink and blue and bubbles moving the fish around.
This is just a glimpse of all that these teachers have in this much needed room.
“Our inspiration is in special education, we always change what we expect for the kids and expect them to fit the kids, we can maybe change the kids, but the atmosphere is the same and it cannot be. We need it to adapt to them, light, sounds, all the things they touch are so unique and some of them do take well to some. Lights are overbearing, and to some, sounds are overbearing. And to have a place where you can bring them away from that, get their energy out, or calm them down, is great,” they added.
One side of the joint rooms is the academic side, where they will be working on a lot of their services, like reading math and writing. They will have two classroom aids, plus two teachers. Plus, they have some students who require one on one aides, so there will be other adults in there some of the time.
The idea is students will come in the academic room, first thing in the mornings, do a little bit of morning work and then a rotation will start. “We’ll have rotations in the sensory room and in the academic room. That way, there are not so many students involved in a lesson. In one room at a time, there, as we will have students that we will try to mainstream into the general education room. With the kids that we work on mainstreaming, we will also have the adult help with our aids, to prepare them for mainstreaming.
The maximum amount of students in the sensory room at one time would be 10 or 11. And even then, they would be at different centers with maybe two to three kids at a section.
At the beginning of this school year, they start out with small numbers of children, with the children coming one day the first week, and two days the second week. This way, they are in small numbers at first. Then, the the following week they will start full-time with numbers around 20 to 21 with the students being split in the two rooms.
“It is kind of neat this way, because we try to work where each of us uses their strong suits. One of us, might connect to one kid and the other, may not get that connection. I am more the disciplinarian and Jessica is the more patient one. So there are certain kids we connect with differently.” said McCain.
Both of these ladies deserve a giant ‘pat on the back’, because most people would not put in all this time and work on their summer vacation. This school year, hopefully, they will reap the benefits they have sown, just to help their students have a successful school year.
Reach: Kimberly Jenkins 740-353-3101 ext. 1928
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