Perry School Creates Sensory Room for Students to Relax or Energize

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Upon entering Burkhart Elementary School’s new sensory room, the first thing students are likely to notice is the light tube. Alternatively, they might be drawn to the slide, trampoline, crash mat, or magnetic tiles on the wall. The room is filled with various sensory tools and equipment.

While the room encourages play, it also serves a specific purpose: to help students achieve a state of calmness or alertness, preparing them for learning. According to Brooke McDonald, the school’s occupational therapist and room supervisor, every child in the school could benefit from the sensory room.

The sensory room at Burkhart Elementary was recently opened thanks to a generous $9,000 grant from the Perry Education Foundation. This marks the first sensory room in the school and only the second one in Perry Township elementary schools, as confirmed by Mary Blake, president of the foundation.

In addition to providing the funding for the project, representatives from the foundation also assisted in assembling the furnishings, painting the room in a calming teal blue color, and creating a cozy atmosphere by dimming the overhead lights with fabric hangings.

The sensory room at Burkhart Elementary is available to any student who needs it for a brief period of time. (Aleksandra Appleton/)

The sensory room is accessible to all students, who can use it for short intervals as needed. Brooke McDonald also trains classroom teachers to identify students who might benefit from taking a break in the sensory room. Typically, only a few students at a time will be in the room.

Additionally, the sensory room plays a crucial role for students in the Comprehensive Intervention Program (CIP), a self-contained special education program. This year, two CIP classrooms were opened at Burkhart Elementary following Perry Township’s adjustment of attendance boundaries.

The specific needs of each student in the sensory room will vary. According to CIP teacher Ailis McCarthy, students who become overwhelmed by noise and activity can benefit from spending a few minutes in a calm setting with dim lighting or observing the bubble tower. Afterward, they are able to rejoin their peers for regular activities, preventing disruptions in the classroom environment.

Before the sensory room was available, McCarthy’s students would attempt to take breaks in her classroom, which often proved distracting for other students. McCarthy emphasizes the importance of providing regular opportunities for students to decompress or elevate their energy levels based on individual needs, and the sensory room allows for both options.

Several people sit and stand in a room full of sensory learning objects with blue walls in the background.

The sensory room will serve as an important space for students in the Comprehensive Intervention Program, the self-contained special education program. (Aleksandra Appleton/)

According to McDonald, some students may use the sensory room as a calming space at the end of the day, engaging in movement exercises and observing the bubbles in the light tube. Others may choose to jump on the trampoline or rock on the soft foam spinners in order to release excess energy and regulate their emotional state before a lesson.

McDonald adds, “All of these activities are beneficial for the body, and the students are unaware of that. They simply think they’re playing on the slide.”

The district aims to establish sensory rooms in every elementary school within its jurisdiction, as stated by Vickie Carpenter, assistant superintendent for foundational learning.

About our reporting

This article was published as part of a partnership between Indiana and WFYI to enhance the coverage of township school districts in Marion County.

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