NORTHFIELD — Teachers and administrators were excited to cut the ribbon and officially open the new and permanent sensory room inside the Northfield Community School media center. Elementary School Principal Maureen Vaccaro said she was excited to finally have a dedicated and private space for the sensory room to help address the needs of all students.
“We have had different versions of sensory rooms these past few years, but the dedicated smaller spaces we were able to convert to sensory rooms could always have been better than they were and never met my expectations,” said Vaccaro.
A sensory room had been set up in the school nurse’s office and while the principal said it was not ideal, it worked. But once the COVID-19 pandemic began, the room could no longer be used and proved the district needed to find a permanent space that would meet the needs of the students.
“For all the students who have needed and would have benefitted from the sensory room during COVID restrictions, I am grateful we can keep going on with our ideas,” added Vaccaro.
Finding space in the school is always an issue, the principal said. The new, permanent home for the district’s sensory room is a converted storage area once used by the IT department but no longer needed. Vaccaro said,
“This is really a perfect size and we were able to create this sensory room without spending much money. We concentrated on what we could do, taking into consideration the layout of the space to best help our students.”
Sensory rooms are therapeutic spaces providing individualized sensory input and are varied, depending upon the needs of the students. Some have soothing lights, while others allow for students to exert energy and get moving.
According to the George Lucas Education Foundation, whether a child needs practice with their fine or gross motor skills, or time developing their auditory, visual, or tactile processing, a sensory room provides a space for being calm, self-regulated, and allows for individual guidance for focusing. All of this provides students the opportunity to better interact with peers and to be better prepared for learning.
Katie Hanlin, the preschool self-contained teacher said the sensory room is a great addition to the school.
“It will help our kids refocus and that is so important. It will allow them a few minutes to redirect their energy, refocus, and be ready and more receptive to learning,” said Hanlin. “I am really excited to have this room available for our kids. I know they will benefit from being able to utilize it.”
The students will only be in the room with a teacher, an aide, or possibly the district’s occupational therapist. While the room is filled with weighted balls, mats, things to climb on, touch, and feel along with a platform swing, quiet and cozy spots to read or use devices as well as a large screen, it is learning-driven.
Whether a child needs practice with their fine or gross motor skills, or time developing their auditory, visual, or tactile processing, a sensory room provides a space for being calm, self-regulated, and allows for individual guidance for focusing.
All of this provides students the opportunity to better interact with classmates and to be better prepared for learning, according to self-contained K-2 teacher Jaclyn Malia.
“We are incorporating the sensory room into the daily schedule for some of our students as a proactive step to meet their sensory needs. Our new sensory room affords them a larger area with privacy,” said Northfield School District Superintendent Pete Bertones.
The funding for the room came from Vaccaro’s elementary building funds and some from Middle School Principal Kevin Morrison’s building funds. The room is able to be utilized for any Northfield Community School student if the student’s teacher or the occupational therapist feels it will benefit the student.