A contribution from a Saskatchewan-based charitable organization is helping to support student learning at Greystone Heights School.
The school has been able to develop and outfit a sensory room thanks to a $7,500 contribution from Angels & Friends Foundation, an organization that supports children with intellectual disabilities.
A sensory room is a calming environment that prepares students, whether independently or with staff assistance, for their day of learning. The room also provides a place for sensory breaks throughout the school day.
"Sensory regulation is when your brain is able to make sense of the inputs that are coming to you from all of your senses," says resource teacher Tanya Orosz. "If students can't make sense of that their bodies become dysregulated. From the dysregulation we see behaviour challenges in the classroom and they aren't able to focus . . . it can be very disruptive to their learning and to the learning of other students."
A school assembly provided an opportunity for all students to learn about the sensory room and how it benefits their school and fellow classmates. It was also a chance to show appreciation for the contribution from Angels & Friends.
"It was a great proposal that really inspired us to come in and help out the school," Meghan Gervais of Angels & Friends told students. "She (Orosz) worked really hard to help us understand what we could do to help. She gave us a list of equipment and she told us stories about how she thought it would help. We are really happy that we had some money available. We are part of a team and a community that that is growing and learning about what we can do to help students be included."
Difficulty with sensory regulation is common in many students with intellectual disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, anxiety, ADHD and other behavioral challenges. Greystone Heights has approximately two dozen students who participate in sensory breaks outside of their classroom.
The sensory room provides a variety of tools to help students meet their needs in order to optimize their learning potential. Equipment available for students in the room includes such things as medicine balls, a heavy bag, elliptical machine, a weighted blanket and a rocker.
The room and equipment is under the direct supervision of Greystone Heights' school resource team – which includes resource teachers, administration and educational assistants -- and is accessible to any student needing assistance with sensory regulation.
"We have noticed a big difference with the kids who have been using it regularly, even with the ones who are using it not as regularly yet. They are able to tell us when they are frustrated. They recognize what their bodies are feeling so they can say 'Hey, I can't focus. I need to go for a sensory break,' " Orosz says.
"Our goal is making it an independent thing for students, where they can independently discover how their bodies are feeling and they can independently go and regulate themselves so they are ready for learning."
There are scheduled sensory breaks for students who struggle with regulation. A break of 10 to 15 minutes allows them to return to class with focus. Orosz uses the example of one student who had a difficult time focusing on learning and staying in the classroom last school year but has benefitted from the sensory room since it was put in to use in September.
"Now that he is regularly getting the sensory breaks that are scheduled, and with routine and this equipment, he is in the classroom almost 90 per cent of the day. They only time he is out is when he is taking his regular breaks."