Bright green lily pads dotted a hallway of Torres Elementary School, with wide-eyed frogs following the path to another pad or piece of wood.
Jada Johnson took a deep breath before hopping from one pad to the next, paying special attention to the instructions laid out between painted trees and logs.
“It gives you energy, and the bananas with letters can help kids learn the alphabet,” Johnson, 9, said. “This is really great for learning.”
The brilliant colors and designs of the jungle safari tucked away in a corner of Torres Elementary will be a new educational component beginning next school year.
The grant provides startup funding for innovative school-level models of instruction that effectively address the educational needs of students with autism.
In addition to the sensory paths, the grant also includes a summer program for students with communication disorders, said Shawna Currie, a spokeswoman for the district.
Through the grant, each elementary school in the district will have a sensory path installed. Sensory paths are used to help students with autism, sensory disorders and other disabilities.
Brianne Harryman, a physical therapist for the district, said the sensory paths are brightly colored and custom-designed for each elementary campus. The paths help with balance, jumping and proprioceptive input – such as pushing or rolling. Each path also incorporates numbers and letters for visual scanning.
The path at Torres Elementary is about 40 feet long, but some of the paths on the other campuses may be longer depending on placement.
“Sometimes students with autism have a difficult time regulating all the senses that are put on them at one time – the noise in the classroom, the way the person who sits next to them smells – (and) this gives the student an opportunity to get some movement and be more aware of what their body is doing,” Harryman said. “They can come back to the classroom and participate and function with other students with a more regulated self.”
The path also encourages teamwork, which will help students with relationships and team-building skills.
Though the paths are primarily for autistic students, they can be used by students of all abilities, Harryman said.
Principal Crystal Rice said she plans for the sensory paths to be used in various ways. Though several Torres students have autism and sensory needs, the path can also be used for the students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or those who need a little perk-up in the morning.
“I think this is a great way, when there’s a moment when a kid who really needs to get their energy out – they can come down and do something productive with their energy,” Rice said. “If a kid comes in the morning with no energy, I can see the kid running through here in the morning to help wake them up.”
Rice said the sensory path will also be a great way to battle brain fatigue in the middle of the day.
“There’s just so many ways this path can and will be used,” she said.