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Sensory room helps students with learning and behavior problems, seeing success

It's a 30 minute escape at Sullivan Elementary School.

Posted: Mar. 7, 2018 10:41 PM

SULLIVAN, Ind. (WTHI) - It's a 30 minute escape at Sullivan Elementary School.

"They check in immediately, tell us how they're feeling," said Special Education Teacher Brandy Hyatt, "and the music is started, the timer is started."

Hyatt is one of the leaders behind the sensory room. The room is designed to help students who struggle in the classroom with learning or behavioral problems.

"If you walk in any classroom, you see there are some students that just kind of stick out," Hyatt said, "They are not able to learn like the other students, maybe they're off task, or out of their seat or they're getting in trouble more than other students."

It's that need that led Hyatt and others to look into a sensory room for the school.

For 30 minutes, small groups of students are allowed in the room with a trained sensory staff member. With dim lighting and soft music, students complete a circuit of activities made to relax and calm them down. The goal is to send the student back to class more focused and productive for the rest of their day through sensory input.

The sensory room includes activities like bags, bouncing/jumping balls, swinging and others. The room also features different zones like the Calm Zone, which focuses on pillows with different textures, a weighted lap pillow and blanket.

"They're not trying to learn mathematics or reading skills that maybe pose a challenge to these children," Hyatt said, "So here, they have fun, they talk to an adult, and the adult is interested in them and the adult can relax too!"

Principal Samantha Phegley says the sensory room is part of a new approach to addressing student needs.

"We cannot just limit ourselves to the traditional ways of discipline and the traditional ways of handling students that maybe have trouble focusing or behavior issues," Phegley said, "and it is our job too. We all have to continue to think outside the box."

The sensory room has only been around for a couple of months, but already staff members are seeing results.

"Out of all of it, I think the best part is just hearing the feedback from students, 'We love the sensory room' or 'I can't wait to go to the sensory room'," Hyatt said, "That makes my heart really happy. Then to hear it from teachers after their students have maybe missed a break because of a scheduling conflict, and they come to me and they say 'Wow, I really wish they could've gotten their sensory break because it made such a difference!'"

Currently, 40 kids use the sensory room at some point during their school day.

"This is cutting edge, it's something new," Hyatt said, "I hope other schools can implement this too for their students because it really is making a difference."

Phegley says they will be planning a fundraiser in the spring for the sensory room. In the meantime, if you're interested in donating items or money, you can call Sullivan Elementary School at 812-268-3341.

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