PHOTO: From left: Samantha D'Andrea(LDTC), Principal Dan Layton, and Priyanka Mohindroo (OT)
HIGHLANDS, NJ — A new sensory room is now available to the students at Highlands Elementary School. Presented to staff on April 16th, the space opened for student use on April 29th, upon their return from spring recess.
Sensory rooms are specially designed rooms that provide a range of stimuli to help individuals develop and engage their senses. Their purpose is to help these individuals including those who have learning difficulties, developmental disabilities, or sensory impairments learn to interact with the world around them, but in a safe environment that builds up their confidence and ability. Highlands Elementary School’s sensory room is equipped with various types of sensory stimuli such as a bean bag chair, a weighted blanket, a sound machine, calming lights, and textured objects for tactile therapy. It is open and accessible to all students who may benefit from this environment.
The idea for the room was developed by Samantha D’Andrea, the school’s Learning Disabled Teaching Consultant and Priyanka Mohindroo, Occupational Therapist. “By providing a therapeutic space for students to regulate a wide range of sensory needs through thoughtful activities that calm and focus, students benefit academically as well. The sensory room prepares students for learning by expanding their ability to follow directions and stay on task in the classroom. Increasing a student’s availability for accessing classroom experience has a significant, positive impact on the learning process” said Ms. D’Andrea. Mrs. Mohindroo notes, “The sensory room is a safe space for all those students who may struggle with functioning and participating in tasks in the classroom, due to difficulty interpreting and processing the sensory information that they come across in their environment. The room gives them the opportunity to organize and regulate their sensory system in the form of play as they learn to integrate the incoming information to purposefully and successfully work in the classrooms.”
Principal Dan Layton was excited to support the endeavor, especially as it directly addresses a key component of the school’s education goals. He said, “An increase in mindfulness education has been a priority initiative of our School Superintendent Dr. Susan Compton as well as our Board of Education and making a room to meet a variety of student needs was the intervention that was missing in our education programming.”
In order to make the sensory room a reality, two major obstacles had to be cleared: finding both dedicated space and funding. Creating a location for the room was a collaborative effort, with many hours of clean up and re-organization done by the custodial staff along with Media Specialist Lisa Higgins. By relocating the school’s leveled reading library from it’s dedicated space and incorporating it into the media center, the former book room was open to be transformed.
In order to allocate money needed to equip the room with the necessary materials, the school was able to amend their Federal ESEA Title IV funding through the NJDOE citing the new learning space’s focused purpose to provide a well-rounded education for all students through social and emotional learning opportunities.
Initial response to the room has been overwhelmingly positive, and the room is being used daily with positive impact on behavior seen already. Mr. Layton stated, “Data analysis and proper use of the room is a vital component to its success. Even in the short time the space has been accessible we have already seen a decrease in student misbehavior, and students demonstrating ability to self regulate for longer intervals of time within their respective academic settings.” Sam Angona, Tri-District Supervisor of Special Education also noted, “This room has had a tremendous impact on addressing behavioral concerns in our special education programming by providing a pro-active approach to avoid student misbehaviors that impede upon the learning process.”
ABOUT HIGHLANDS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - The staff, administration and Board of Education of Highlands Elementary School is vested in the development of the whole child. Social and emotional learning is a vital component to building a strong foundation for a well-rounded student who achieves academically and becomes a contributing member to society.