Waterloo elementary students experimenting artistic refuge

At Fred Becker Elementary in Waterloo, students have begun using a special hallway called the sensory path as a place to take a break when pressures at school become overwhelming.

Art teacher Amira Kass decorates one of her school hallways with a “sensory path.” Students are allowed to walk through the path whenever they feel overwhelmed.

Kass works at Fred Becker Elementary in Waterloo. She talked to the principal and lead teacher about “decorating” the school with a “sensory path” after researching, and it was put into place in August.

“Last year we had a lot of behaviors at Becker. One of our big rocks this school year is social-emotional learning. I wanted kids to be able to self-regulate and be in tune with their emotions—understanding when they are stressed, anxious, nervous, angry, etc. The sensory mind was developed as a tool for students to use when they could feel themselves starting to bubble over,“ Kass said.

Students are encouraged to use the path to calm them down and help refocus them so they can quickly get back to learning. The path is an oasis to destress the students so they can do their absolute best in school work.

“The sensory path has been a wonderful addition to our school. Our entire school has shifted their thinking this year. Our goal is to ensure that our students’ emotions and basic needs are being met,” Kass said. ”We have lots of systems and tools in place for our kids to help them be the best version of themselves, and the sensory path is one of them. Because of all these changes, I do believe that the behaviors are significantly down this school year.”

Students are given a pass from their teacher to go into the hallway any time they feel the need. There is no official limit on how many times a student can go to the path every day. It is all based on the teacher’s judgment.

“My staff has been very encouraging and supportive in my ideas,” Kass said. “I have gotten nothing but positive feedback from my team. They have embraced my ideas and let the students use the path when needed. As educators, we all want what is best for kids. We understand that some of our students come to school with a lot of heavy baggage, and if they are able to take a small break and get back to learning then we are going to allow them to do that.”

Kass said that she would “absolutely suggest this to other schools,” and that “It has already had such a positive impact for us, and we are only two months into the school year.”

Freshmen Sophia Woods agreed that school can be very overwhelming for many students, and said that she gets “overwhelmed more than I should.”

She said, “For me personally probably like all of the work, all of the homework from, some days I get work from every class, and that has to be done the next day, and sometimes I get so stressed that I freeze up, and then I get overwhelmed so I think probably the workload.”

Woods agreed that the path would be very beneficial, but she has her doubts. “Students like faking being overwhelmed to get out of class for a little bit,” and “It becomes overcrowded and loses its original purpose of being a quiet place to go.”

Kass said so far Becker Elementary has not seen any downsides to the sensory refuge. “There have been no problems since we have added the sensory path,” and, in the end, Woods said, “Overall, I think it would be a good idea to have.”

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