Students at Montevallo Elementary have not just one but two new sensory areas to help with their social and emotional learning needs. And, the excited students were more than willing to show off their new sensory path and cove areas to guests attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 2.
One of the honored guests at the grand opening was State Representative Matt Fridy, who gave the school a $10,000 legislative community grant last year to help fund the project.
“This is a fantastic project,” said Rep. Friday. “When they told me it was going to be used for a sensory path and sensory cove, I did some research to see what that was all about. “
“It is amazing the things that can be accomplished with a sensory path,” Fridy continued. “Just the formation of the neuropathways that goes with exercising the five senses – and doing it in a structured way like the sensory path and sensory cove do – can really make a difference in our students, our special needs students and then all students who just need a brain break and an opportunity to let their brains settle. This is a great way to do it and it really going to stimulate learning at Montevallo Elementary.”
Dr. Allison Campbell said her staff worked tirelessly to research, plan and design the two spaces specifically with Montevallo students’ needs in mind. They especially wanted to implement a sensory area that would be impactful for every student.
Special Education lead teacher, Dora Newell, said the two areas are already being used by both special education and general education students, who sometimes need the visit the areas to decompress from being upset, or simply because it’s fun.
“As a Shelby County school, we have been working on social and emotional learning and knowing that it is part of growing the whole child,” Newell said. “It is not just about academics but you have to have all of the pieces in order for there to be balance.”
The indoor sensory path was custom-designed and installed by The Sensory Path, a Mississippi company founded by Holly Barker Clay, who worked as a special education teacher with a large percentage of students with autism. Clay’s research of how sensory input helps to increase cognitive function and retention in students with special needs led to the creation of the various paths the company now designs specifically for schools.
The path at MES encompasses an entire hallway and includes a large daisy with numbered leaves, a ladybug line with specific instructions for the students to follow, lily pads, jumping frogs, floating logs, a handprint “push” wall, and an ABC hopscotch trail.
The outdoor sensory cove was created entirely by the faculty and staff and Montevallo High School, who worked as a team to come up with all of its various components. The work on the sensory cove area was a labor of love that involved multiple people and community partners. It includes colorful areas that appeal to all five senses, including musical instruments, tactile stations, rock and turf paths, and spinning pinwheels.
Newell said the special education resource teachers are using both areas daily with the students with special needs. General education teachers are also using the areas to give their students brain and sensory breaks during transition times.
Newell said if a student, for example, has had a bad experience in the lunchroom and is really upset, a lot of times that emotion will carry back over into the classroom.
” And so, as we are walking back we will say ‘Hey, why don’t you go try the path out?’ Newell said. “By the time they go through the numbers and the lily pads and back up through the letters, they have forgotten what they were upset about. We have seen a lot of benefits already from both areas.”
Superintendent Lewis Brooks said the new sensory areas provide an engaging and fun opportunity for the students to dig into their senses and their emotions.
“They are providing great opportunities for kids to really kind of settle into what their emotions are and it is a fun way to do that,” Dr. Brooks said. “It is colorful, exciting, and intriguing for the kids.”
“I am so grateful for this group of teachers and staff members that put this together,” Dr. Brooks added. “Because the best thing about working in Shelby County is that we have faculty and staff that go much further than you would ever believe for our kids. It really creates a community that focuses on the future.”