( 8 Votes )

Sensory swing in BEST roomCarysbrook Elementary Principal Scott Lucas didn’t like what he saw.

Lucas wanted students on the edge to feel supported, not punished.

After a year of searching, he and his staff opened the Behavioral, Education, Social/Emotional Teaching lab – the BEST room – in August.

“Any student who needs a time out, or to finish work, or decompress can ask to go,” Lucas said.

The room is available and open to any student. Students whose teachers know they routinely struggle can apply for a pass, which then hangs on the wall in the student’s classroom. Students who feel the need ask the teacher for permission, pick up the pass and go.

“We have the pass because we can’t have students just roaming around in the hallway,” Lucas said.

In the BEST room students get to hang with William Reese, a licensed teacher hired as an aide.

The room has study or work zones where students can finish work, a “zones of regulation” area where they can talk about how they’re feeling, and a “take a break” corner furnished with a hammock swing, exercise balls, books and bean bags.

They can also do “Teach Town,” an educational computer program with a social and emotional component. Each day, some students are scheduled to sign in to Teach Town. “We also have organized small group discussion led by Mr. Reese,” Lucas said. “The whole process is more reflective rather than punitive.”

But there are rules written clearly on the board:

  • I treat others kindly;
  • I follow directions;
  • I keep my hands to myself;
  • I take care of BEST lab materials and equipment; and
  • I leave the BEST lab when my time is finished.

Reese discussed a student who had just left the BEST lab. The student had an assignment to work out a recipe with certain ingredients. The student got overwhelmed in the classroom and asked to go to the BEST room.

After talking to Reese and calming down, the two deciphered the assignment. Up on the board was the completed recipe for chocolate-covered pretzels.
Lucas said Katrina Lee, director of special education, helped him find money to run the lab. Lee also lent her expertise in another project at Carysbrook.

Jennifer Jenkins, Carysbrook special education teacher, noticed a stand-alone building in back near the playground: a former trailer classroom now used as a storage shed.
Jenkins wanted to turn it into a sensory room – a room meant to engage certain parts of the brain to aid learning, Lucas said.

Once she got permission, Jenkins and other aides, teachers, spouses and friends worked all summer cleaning it out, painting it and filling it with equipment that stimulates different senses.
“In one day Brad Hallman and William Mendez built the deck,” Lucas said.

The wheelchair-accessible deck leads to a large room. Many of the window and fluorescent bulbs are draped in blue cloth to soften the light. On the floor are several rectangular plastic mats filled with a purple gel that oozes patterns when stepped on. Rubbery, primary-colored triangular blocks of different sizes and heights are spread around the floor like rocks in a stream. In one corner sits a hut-shaped, foam rubber tunnel. Lie down inside and tiny, colored lights surround you. A big soft round swing hangs from a stand. Next to it is a series of solid foam cones that envelop students who like to feel contained.

Lucas said while the sensory room was created with special education students in mind, all teachers can use it to help a child who needs a particular stimulation to learn.

“As soon as it was finished, Ms. Jenkins sent out an all-staff email inviting teachers to schedule time in it,” Lucas said.