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A sense of comfort

by JOSH MCDONALD
Local Editor | November 22, 2022 1:00 AM

OSBURN — Developing coping skills is one of the most important ways that human beings adjust to the increasingly stressful world that we exist in.

This is doubly important for children — who often find themselves in situations where their stress manifests itself into feelings of helplessness, anger or sadness. It can also cause them to feel restless and when a child feels restless with no available outlets for their energy it can lead to disruptive behavior.

At Silver Hills Elementary School (SHES), a newly designed space is now available for the students to go and gather themselves — while allowing them the opportunity to express these feelings or even let out some of that pent-up energy.

With the backing of Mountain West Bank (MWB), the SHES Special Education Department created a new sensory room that students are free to use when the situation calls for it.

A sensory room is a specially designed room that combines a range of stimuli to help individuals develop and engage their senses. These can include lights, colors, sounds and sensory soft play resources, all used within a safe environment that allows the person using it to explore and interact without risk.

Bekah Johnson is the community relations manager with MWB, and one of the primary goals she has any time a branch opens or operates within a community is to see how the children of that community are being served and what can be done to improve that. One of her favorite ways of getting involved is to make sure local students have opportunities at their disposal to help them navigate the world around them.

“We could see these rooms help children, teachers and therapy staff,” Johnson said. “To kids, this just looks like fun, and to adults it’s a way of working therapy into real-life lessons: like learning how to regulate emotions. Kids getting an opportunity to get their wiggles out or regroup in the Zen Den helps them to have more class time with less interruptions.”

Along with teachers Amber Wood and Erica Hunter, Johnson went hunting for a space — which is generally the first roadblock that has to be overcome when it comes to getting a sensory room installed at a facility. SHES has had such a room prior, but as enrollment numbers increased, that room was converted back into a classroom.

“Finding the space these days is the tricky part — everywhere we look schools are crowded. Silver Hills was taking their old sensory space and converting it to a classroom so we needed to find an alternative, which happened to be an old storage space off of the gym,” Johnson said. “The gym space was packed to the hilt after COVID and we couldn’t even get in the room when we toured the school. The school emptied the space out after our visit and we were able to clean, paint, and install the floor padding and all the sponsored sensory items.”

What began as a plain, gray cinderblock room is now a magical ocean-themed space where kids can come and take part in a myriad of activities.

One of the cooler features of the space is a converted closet right off from the room that houses the Zen Den, a blacked-out room complete with fiber optic lighting, and a big bean bag chair where a child can lay beneath a weighted blanket and listen to calming music and let go of their stresses and anxiety.

“Bringing in fiber optics and glow-in-the-dark pieces is fun even for the adults,” Johnson said. “Who doesn’t want to sit in a Zen Den with a bubble tube humming and the fiber pulsing through the ceiling? But sometimes a grant can turn a wish into something bigger than just a sensory room. Sometimes it feels like we are making magic.”

Countless hours went into converting the room and Johnson was very clear that the staff from SHES went above and beyond to get the room ready for the school year.

“Their tireless effort lead to an amazing sensory room that opened at the start of the school year,” Johnson said. “If it hadn’t been for the teachers, this room wouldn’t be what it is. One teacher had her mom come help paint, and husbands pitched in to help paint vinyl padding, hang swings, and all sorts of chores. These teachers knew how to hustle.”

Johnson credits MWB’s local branch manager Gina Doerschel for much of the project’s success due largely in part to her knowledge of the community that she passionately serves.

“I love that our staff knew where to go and where to listen,” Johnson said. “Gina and her team knew right where to point us when we asked about community service projects. I know this room will live on and get better with time, and I am excited for the kids and parents in our community to find this room. At the end of the day, our goal is to serve the communities in which we live and work. I love this because it made the teachers smile, our employees smile, and it made so many kids smile. We can never underestimate the value of a smile or making someone’s day better.”

Doerschel is proud of the efforts and results from the time and money spent making this happen.

“As far as myself and my team, it’s our job to find the needs of our communities, let Bekah know about them, and then she gets the ball rolling,” Doerschel said. “I think this one was a lot of fun for all of us, from the branch level to the school. Everything from the Silver Hills team wish list was shipped to the bank, so my team was able to see all of the fun things that were going to be installed. I was able to spend two days, along with Bekah, painting, putting things together, hanging fiber optics, and watching those teachers work their hearts out. This room was definitely a labor of love for them. Honestly, the best part of all of it for me was seeing and hearing from the teachers, what a huge and important impact it has made on them and so many of their students in such a short time. How can you not love a project like this?”

photo

Photo by JOSH McDONALD

The Zen Den inside Silver Hills Elementary School's sensory room.

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