Weekly Feature

2017-02-15 / Front Page

Clarence Center ‘sensory room’ designed to de-stress students


Stress relief will now just be a short walk away in the hallways of Clarence Center Elementary, thanks to what administrative officials call a newly added “sensory room,” designed to give students the respite they need in order to mitigate overstimulation and help them refocus their energy.

The new sensory room, completed within the past two weeks, was described to the Board of Education on Monday night by school officials. The room was made possible by a $1,000 grant from the Clarence Schools Enrichment Foundation that the school received in December.

This past fall, Clarence Center Elementary Principal Colleen Coggins approached AnneMarie Olczak, an occupational therapist in the district, and inquired about the possibility of creating such a room for a student population with a diverse set of needs.

“There’s lots of different activities that address all of the different needs of kids, from visual to auditory, to motor skills,” Coggins said. “A teacher or an aide can bring a child down to the room. It’s used proactively; it’s not a reactive place to go.”

Olczak told the board how occupational therapists often struggle to clearly explain to the public the fine differences between a child’s sensory and behavioral issues.

“Often, sensory needs are mistaken for behavioral needs; this is our biggest challenge as OTs,” she said. “We’re going to show through having this room and some data that we’re going to keep that these needs are sensory-based.”

The small, enclosed space features a calming blue-painted, brick interior. It is neatly filled with items and gadgets that are used to produce a calming effect in the user while simultaneously allowing him or her to regain focus.

Weighted blankets are available for students who may need an enveloping solace, in addition to exercise balls and Rubik’s Cubes. Speakers have the ability to play soft, nature sounds reminiscent of a rainforest while aromatherapy accents such as vanilla and lavender let students breathe in calming scents.

The board as well as a handful of audience members migrated to get a brief tour of the room, where a student at Clarence Center Elementary demonstrated some of the activities that will become available to students as the sensory room increases its availability.

The student identified what children might experience as “five-minute body breaks,” which are a series of physical activities designed to expend energy that might otherwise be disruptive in a classroom setting.

“What we do is have 15 jumps on the trampoline,” he said, before crawling on top of a large exercise ball in the corner of the room. “There’s this other thing where you have to use the ball to walk on your arms, down and back. You have to do this slowly so that you don’t lose balance. This makes you actually have to concentrate on what you’re doing.”

Olczak believes the sensory room will have an exponential benefit in relieving the stress certain students may be subjected to from crowded hallways, fluorescent lighting and loud lunchrooms, which in turn will make the jobs of teachers easier by allowing them to more effectively maintain class focus and attention.

“The goal is to manage any student struggling with attention and self-control. Some students may just not know what ‘slow’ feels like, so we help them to manage that,” said Olczak. “Hopefully, when they leave the room, they’ll be more calm and relaxed so that they’re ready to engage in academic tasks.”

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