Students find calm in new facility funded by Jerry Springer

Angela Lu

After opening a high-tech facility for students with disabilities last spring, faculty at Park School are starting to see improvement in the well-being of their students.

The facility was built from a $230,000 donation by talk show host Jerry Springer, who donated the money to Park in summer 2006. The center is called Katie’s Corner, named for Springer’s daughter, who was born with physical disabilities and volunteered at the school. Park is the first school in the nation to have a multi-sensory facility attached to the school.

“After a teacher sends (the students) to the sensory room and they return to class, they are able to better focus and to better learn,” said Marlene Grossman, the principal of Park School.

Park School, 828 Main St., caters to students with disabilities by focusing on developing different areas like academics, vocational skills, and skills for living at home.

These new facilities, also known as Snoezelen rooms, were created in the Netherlands in the 1970s and have spread around the world. In the dimly lit room, there are objects that students can interact with, including fiber-optic lights, kaleidoscope images, light-activated CD players and chairs with vibration.

“It calms students who don’t understand the environment to communicate their fear or wants and needs,” Grossman said. “The sensory room helps deflect anxiety so that they are at a more calm level when they deal with different issues.”

The room affects each student differently, said Elena Garfield, occupational therapist at Park. Teachers take students around the room and figure out what equipment works best with each student.

“We use (the room) to bring kids to just the right place to participate in class,” Garfield said. One class, which consists of boys who behave aggressively, spends an entire period in Katie’s Corner every day. The teacher keeps the room very quiet and the students are able to work better when they come back to class, Garfield said.

Most of the research conducted has been on adults, so there is very little known about how it affects children. Garfield is currently compiling data to find out more accurately how Katie’s Corner is affecting the children.

Students who are hearing impaired or visually impaired can benefit from the room as well, Garfield said. One piece of equipment is a ladder where a light moves higher as a person’s voice gets louder. The ladder helps deaf students gauge how loud they are when they speak or make noises.

Sumer Porter, the school’s teacher for the visually impaired, said she finds ways to help her students with the advanced equipment.

“(The room) has different pieces of equipment with lights on them and the room is darker to help peak their visual interest,” Porter said.

Still, Garfield can see one downside to the expensive equipment.

“You can’t tell parents to use (the room) at home because they don’t have it,” Garfield said.

Garfield looks at the effects of the room on a case-by-case basis, but the true value of the addition is in its potential.

“What we have available has improved, and now we have more possibilities and equipment that we can try out on different students so that they can work to the best of their ability.”

Reach Angela Lu at [email protected]