Noel Pri­mary School Adds Sen­sory In­te­gra­tion Room

McDonald County Press - - FRONT PAGE - Rachel Dick­er­son

Noel Pri­mary School has a new sen­sory in­te­gra­tion room to help stu­dents with sen­sory is­sues be more calm and at­ten­tive.

“It’s a new type of ther­apy that has come up for stu­dents with spe­cial needs,” Speech Im­ple­menter Brid­get Ep­per­son ex­plained. “They’re find­ing out to­day that more and more chil­dren have is­sues with sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences. Be­cause chil­dren are raised dif­fer­ently these days — there’s a lot of elec­tron­ics. This is a way to of­fer sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences and ex­pose them to dif­fer­ent things.”

She said that stu­dents can have is­sues tak­ing in all the sen­sory in­for­ma­tion around them, such as lights, smells and sounds. These is­sues can lead to trou­ble with their school work, she said. The room helps them fo­cus on what­ever sen­sory area they need so they can bet­ter con­cen­trate, she said.

Each ses­sion be­gins with stretch­ing on yoga mats and bounc­ing on bal­ance balls. These ex­er­cises help with gross-motor skills, Ep­per­son said. They might also do a fine-motor ac­tiv­ity, such as pick­ing things up with tongs.

Each day they have a les­son. She said she tries to make the lessons rel­e­vant to what the chil­dren are go­ing through. For ex­am­ple, if some­one gets in trou­ble for say­ing some­thing mean, the next day’s les­son might be about kind things to say to oth­ers. Then the stu­dents get to choose from dif­fer­ent

“We’ve seen re­ally pos­i­tive re­sponses. Our stu­dents’ par­ents are lov­ing it be­cause they’ve seen the way it can ful­fill their need.”

ac­tiv­i­ties in the room. There is a rice ta­ble they can dig in with tools, a ball pit they can climb in and let the balls roll over them, a bal­ance beam, a calm­ing tent, a small tram­po­line and more. Each com­po­nent has its own ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits. For ex­am­ple, Ep­per­son said, the ball pit has a calm­ing ef­fect be­cause the balls cre­ate deep pres­sure, re­lax­ing the mus­cles.

How do the stu­dents choose which ac­tiv­ity to do?

“It de­pends on what they feel like their sen­sory need is that day to help them fo­cus bet­ter,” Ep­per­son said. “It kind of de­pends on what their is­sues are that day and what that need is.”

When the stu­dents go back to their class­room, they are more calm and at­ten­tive and have fewer be­hav­ioral prob­lems, she said.

“We’ve seen re­ally pos­i­tive re­sponses. Our stu­dents’ par­ents are lov­ing it be­cause they’ve seen the way it can ful­fill their need,” she said. “It’s another way ed­u­ca­tion is trans­form­ing to meet the needs of chil­dren to­day.”

Noel Pri­mary is the only school in the county that has a sen­sory in­te­gra­tion room. It was made pos­si­ble through a grant.

“The McDon­ald County Schools Foun­da­tion opens a grant ev­ery spring. We wrote a grant. They funded it for us, and we got all these things. All the teach­ers have banded to­gether and we’ve made things,” she said. “We’re very ex­cited about it, and the kids are lov­ing it.”

She said some teach­ers may use the room as a re­ward for their classes, be­cause stu­dents do not have to be spe­cial needs to use the room.

Ep­per­son said most schools that try this get a small room or a cor­ner.

“We’re for­tu­nate be­cause our prin­ci­pal has jumped on board and we have this big room so we can serve more stu­dents. It’s kind of like our whole school’s project. We’re ex­cited to be the school that gets to im­ple­ment it,” she said.

Dr. Deb­o­rah Pear­son, prin­ci­pal of Noel Pri­mary School, said, “I’m re­ally ex­cited be­cause we’re al­ready notic­ing our stu­dents be­ing calmer. They’re re­ally ex­cited about it, and when you talk to them about the sen­sory room, they say, ‘It makes me feel good.’

“Our phi­los­o­phy and vi­sion is to treat the whole child. The room helps us to treat the chil­dren on a dif­fer­ent level. When you’re a child with sen­sory is­sues you’re not al­ways un­der­stood. We work hard to make sure our stu­dents are pre­pared in ev­ery way. We’re hop­ing our kids with sen­sory needs will be in­cor­po­rated into class­rooms even more … have less sen­sory is­sues and be more fo­cused on learn­ing. What’s nice is we start them so young that they just de­velop faster.”

Brid­get Ep­per­son

Speech Im­ple­menter

RACHEL DICK­ER­SON/MCDON­ALD COUNTY PRESS

Brid­get Ep­per­son, left, looks on as Cor­ban Ashcraft walks over dif­fer­ent sur­faces in the sen­sory in­te­gra­tion room at Noel Pri­mary School.

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