First sensory room in school history created

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Most times in schools, the special education department is easily overlooked. Graham High School, however, is an exception. For a few months, Graham High has been working on a sensory room to aid teachers and students who are a part of the special education department. This is the first sensory room Graham High has had since its opening in 1914. Although the Special Ed. division has been waiting quite a while, this small room is a huge victory for all students and staff involved.

The purpose of a sensory room is to help children with attention-oriented issues relax in a calming environment because of their overwhelmed senses. The website especialneeds.com describes a sensory room as “a playground but intended for taking a breather instead of burning off excess energy.” The first sensory room was created in the 1970s by Jan Hulsegga and Ad Verheul. Their intention was to make a room that aided people with disabilities by slowly combining playtime and sensory activities. Many schools around the globe have a sensory room in their school, and starting this year, each TCPS school has been required to have one. Mrs. Michelle Hanna (special education teacher) is in charge of the production of the room.

The sensory room has been in the making since before the pandemic hit the area and school closed in March. According to Mrs. Hanna, the sensory room will be finished “when the last order comes in from the website. It should be about a month.” Mrs. Janna Gray (special education teacher), however, thinks it will be done “probably by the end of the semester.” Other people, such as Mr. Charles Kitts (assistant to Mrs. Hanna), who said, “Gosh, we don’t know [when it will be finished]. We were hoping to already have it finished but we’re waiting on supplies from the central office,” are unsure of how soon the room will be ready for use.

“It’ll be a good addition to the special ed. department because the kids need a place [like that] because they’re easily distracted,” Mr. Kitts said. “They need a place to get away from all of the school distractions. I think [it will help students focus more].” Mr. Kitts also played a big role in the production of the sensory room, and he helped assemble a lot of the items in it. Although both Mrs. Hanna and Mrs. Gray agreed with him, not just teachers involved in the special education department think it was a good idea for students with disabilities. “I think it’ll help certain people who are having stressful days calm down, so it’ll really help the school,” Mrs. Mary Cockerham (art teacher) said.

Fox 59 News did a segment about sensory rooms throughout the TCPS school system and how they might play an even bigger role in students’ lives this year compared to others. “It gives those students that might need a break or outlet from their normal routine a place where they can go to have quiet, and kind of de-stress before returning to the classroom,” Lindsey Mullins (Tazewell County Director of PR) said during the news interview.

Since sensory rooms are somewhat of a new concept in schools around the area, it is not unexpected that few teachers have experience working with one. 

Neither Mrs. Gray, Mr. Kitts, nor Mrs. Hanna have ever worked in a sensory room. “This is going to be my first time working with one,” Mrs. Hanna said. Although all three teachers have a lot of experience handling the special education department, a new practice like that of a sensory room has never been used in Graham High. Teachers have calmed down students with attention oriented disorders for years without a special room designated to the task, but it will help teachers and students nonetheless.

Graham High’s sensory room is a little small compared to others, since it used to be a closet, and that makes some teachers wish it was bigger. “I know this school is older compared to others, but I wish [our sensory room] was a little bit bigger so we could have a lot more [items] in it,” Mrs. Hanna said. Mr. Kitts said something quite similar. Some teachers think the room is fine the way it is, like Mrs. Gray, who said, “That size is just perfect.” 

When talking about the size of the sensory room, there is one elephant in the room, and that is social distancing and other guidelines brought up by COVID-19. Although some teachers have speculations to what the specific guidelines for the sensory room will be, nobody is quite certain yet. 

The sensory room at Graham High School sports a large, ocean-themed mural on the wall, painted by Mrs. Cockerham, the school’s art teacher. “Mrs. Hanna and I decided on what the mural was going to be,” Mrs. Cockerham said. “She wanted an ocean scene, so I came up with that and she said it looked good. I am very happy with the way it turned out. I have a sassy little turtle [in the mural]!” Oceanic scenes are common among sensory rooms.

The sensory room at Graham High School will be the most beneficial to the students themselves. “I’m so excited [for the sensory room],” Bradley Tabor (12) said.