Boardman Schools’ new sensory room aims to improve students’ mental health during COVID-era

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The room is designed to help students cope with anxiety, help them focus and teach them about their emotions

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – Meridian Healthcare is helping students with their mental health by giving $20,000 to create a sensory room at Boardman Center Intermediate School.

The school is in the process of renovating a storage room to a sensory room. School counselor Kendra Baltes said they hope it will be done by the end of the month or at the beginning of February.

“Sensory rooms are typically used for students with autism and special needs, but we wanted to make that more broad, especially during COVID-19,” Baltes said. “Kids are struggling with anxiety, depression and just being unable to focus. This is more like a safe place for them to go, they can learn coping skills, they can learn meditation, they can learn how to interact with another student.”

The room will feature things students can see, touch and hear by including bubble tubes to practice deep breathing. They also have the “double bubble bonanza,” which allows students to press buttons to affect what colors are showing up, what sounds are playing and what bubbles are doing. They can do this with a partner while also working on hand-eye coordination. There’s aromatherapy and music as well.

“One side is more of your calming coping skills side…and the other side is more of a hand-on manipulative side, and then we have the black chalkboard paint, which is really cool so they can also use it for OT and PT and it’s really a broad thing for all students here,” Baltes said.

Meridian Healthcare CEO Larry Moliterno said they have a great relationship with Boardman Schools and have been working with Baltes and principal Randy Ebie to identify the needs of children. They’ve found out a lot of problems stem from emotions and want to create an opportunity for children to identify their emotions, recognize their impact on actions and teach them to anticipate and talk about their emotions.

“We’re all struggling, especially in the COVID-era here, with stress and anxiety,” Moliterno said. “That’s multiplied with kids, and they’re dealing with issues at home, they’re dealing with issues in school, they’re dealing with all the personal issues they have, and sometimes they just aren’t at a point yet, maturity-wise, that they can identify actually what causing all this anxiety.”

The room will give students the opportunity to find peace and better understand themselves. Moliterno also said he hopes to do other projects to support children in the area, whether that’s through sensory rooms or something they haven’t even thought of yet. The whole idea is to be creative innovative and on the cutting edge of what they can do to help children.

“This is really unique because it really is going to support the mental health of kids and adults because I think that we’re going find that the more kids are able to get this kind of support at school the better they’re going to be at home, the better they’re going to be at doing their homework and the better they’re going to have relationships with their families,” Moliterno said.

Principal Randy Ebie said said he’s excited to see this project come to light and said they’ve seen a greater need for this because of stress and anxiety this past year has brought.

“This is a way to appeal to the needs of our entire student body,” Ebie said.

Part of that need is keeping them safe and the COVID regulations they’ve been employing will be added to this room. Ebie said their maintenance and custodial staff does a great job spraying down rooms and using UV lights to disinfect on top of helping build the new sensory room.

“Being that it’s going to be a much more tactile room, we’ll be addressing this throughout each day,” Ebie said.

Baltes said while the room might be fun for students, it also has benefits that they might not realize.

“It kind of goes across everything, it’s not just a fun room to hang out in, it has purpose to it,” Baltes said.

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