By Dennis Hohenberger
Article Credit: MassLive
HOLYOKE – H.B. Lawrence School unveiled on Monday the district’s first Sensory Walk where students can hop, skip and jump their way to a stress-free day.
On a side hallway, the colorful walk gives students a structured movement break, which helps them refocus or work-off some steam.
Besides hopscotch, the children can zig-zag over letters, leap like a frog, count numbers, step gingerly through a figure-eight or do wall pushups. The walk also curbs disruptive classroom behavior by providing gentle, engaging exercises.
Alissa Izzo, the district’s behavior specialist, said Alison L’Heureux, who runs the Therapeutic Intervention Program, came up with the walk idea. Izzo said sensory walk kits can prove expensive, about $1,500 on average.
Instead of buying a kit, Izzo and Taylor Litchfield created a sensory walk out of vinyl, cutting the colorful pieces on a specialized machine. Staff plotted out the exercises in a specific order.
“The students got input that slows their bodies down and then speeds it back up and then slows it down again,” Izzo said. “It helps when you have a student that gets fidgety in class, and they’re having trouble concentrating.”
She added, “They can take a break here and get that movement instead of wandering around the school. They get that movement so they can participate back in class and be able to get back to where they need to be.”
Izzo and her team continue to collect data and feedback from teachers. Teachers note a student’s behavior after they go through the walk. Some teachers take their whole class through during transition times.
Several schools in the district inquired about the sensory walks. “We would like to get it in other schools,” she said.
A half-dozen first graders trekked through the course. The children focused on where they placed their feet while scanning for numbers or letters along the way. The hopping section produces clopping sounds and giggles.
Evanie Mateo, 7, said the walk made her “not worry” as she happily skipped over the cutouts on the floor. “I feel I’m at school right now, learning. I feel relaxed, now,” she said. Evanie enjoyed the jumps, hopping from frog to frog.
Some of the children said the letters or numbers out loud as they made their way around.
School Superintendent Dr. Stephen Zrike asked the children what they liked about the walk?
Several children said they like the idea of learning outside the classroom. It helps them remember the alphabet and numbers better and “funner.”
Afterward, Zrike said the sensory walk fits in with schools that are more “trauma-sensitive” and supports students who deal with anxiety at school or home.
“Sensory tools are a great way to help students get in a space where they’re able to learn,” Zrike said. “We do know that unless you feel safe or comfortable, it’s very hard for them to engage in their learning with the expectations that we have for students.”
Zrike added that his staff continues to find innovative ways to enhance the learning experience. “We want ideas to percolate from our staff who have expertise and talents. Right here is an example of a group of educators that stepped up to create a structure that will benefit all children at Lawrence School,” he said.