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Baldwin County School District Introduces Sensory Rooms to Support the Needs of Students

Baldwin County School District has embarked on a mission to introduce sensory rooms to its Early Learning Center, Primary Schools, and Academies. This visionary initiative is aimed to provide support for children with sensory processing disorders and socio-emotional needs. The District's dedication to fostering a nurturing and inclusive learning environment was exemplified by the tireless efforts of educators like Jamy Meeks, Disability Services Coordinator at the Early Learning Center. "If you look at studies, typically anywhere between 5-15% of kids have some type of sensory processing disorder," said Meeks, "so, in order to help kids have a place to be able to safely regulate, having a sensory room was definitely a good option for our students."

Dr. Shawne Holder, Principal of Lakeview Academy, was introduced to sensory rooms back in 2018, when the GNETS program (Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support) installed one at her school. "As soon as that one was installed, I wanted a second one," she said. "And BCSD Superintendent Dr. Noris Price and I started investigating that... then of course we had the COVID shut down which exposed even more need for that socio-emotional learning environment and sensory environment for students."

These sensory rooms are not just ordinary spaces; they are equipped with an array of features designed to provide auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation. In the ELC, there is a caterpillar adorned with gears and textures, a soothing fish carousel, and mesmerizing fiber optic lighting that hang gracefully overhead offering both visual and tactile stimuli.

The rooms in Midway Hills Primary and Lakeview Primary have ball tubes, hour glasses, and fuzzy extrusions for children to touch. The sensory rooms at all of the schools also include crash pads. "The crash pad provides a lot of proprioception input," said Meeks, "that is basically how your joints and your muscles interact with various stimuli so that it almost gives a hugging effect." An overhead mirror allows children to engage in self-reflection, while a celestial ceiling with stars bring a touch of the night sky indoors.

Tactile beanbags and auditory bubbles add to the sensory experience, while pedestals with mirrors and more fiber optic lighting rounded out the room's offerings. While these rooms primarily cater to special needs children, they are open to any students who might benefit from them. Children who have experienced trauma or displayed symptoms of ADHD are welcome, and the rooms prove to be effective in calming them and helping regulate their sensory experiences.

Last year, Lakeview Primary had its sensory room fully implemented, making it one of the early adopters of this innovative educational resource. According to Principal Tracy Clark, the sensory room has proven highly effective in helping students who have experienced emotional overstimulation due to sensory issues. It serves as a place where students could de-escalate and regulate their emotions, providing them with a much-needed respite. "It's absolutely amazing," she said, "and the cool thing is that the amount of time they need to be here has gotten shorter and shorter, and the amount of time in the classroom has gotten longer and longer."

What was most surprising and heartening for Principal Clark was witnessing the positive changes in the students. She described it as a "switch" that seemed to flip when they entered the room. Some children gravitate toward specific sensory tools, while others find solace in gazing at themselves in the mirror. These interactions with the sensory room elements play a vital role in helping students regain their emotional equilibrium.

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