Priceless — that’s the word Baker Elementary School teachers use to describe how it feels to see the smiles and look of pure joy on their students’ faces as they explore the different stations inside the school’s new sensory room. From a ball pit and walls of activities to a mini trampoline and a piano for their feet, the room provides a space where special-needs students can find a variety of options to meet their individualized needs.
Baker teachers knew what their students needed, and Piedmont Church helped meet those needs.
“If it weren’t for (Piedmont Church), we wouldn’t be able to do it,” special-needs preschool teacher Jana Phillips said. “We’re so appreciative of the community and the support, not only Piedmont Church, but we have a lot of partners in (education) here at Baker who support us. Even just giving us lunches, they don’t know how much that means to us to be able to feel the love from the outside so we can give the love to their kids.”
Phillips, who has taught special-needs students in Cobb County for 17 years, teamed up with fellow teacher Janene Edusei to open the sensory room in August. They had the support of their administration and PTA, and they had a room. They just needed the community’s help transforming the space for their students.
“It’s very important for our students because all of our students have their own individual needs,” said Edusei, an autism integrated classroom teacher for kindergarten through third grade. “A lot of them have sensory needs where they have auditory learning. They need things to help them to calm down. If they are overstimulated, we have some areas where there’s a dark space for them to go into, beanbags to just relax in, a rocking chair and a weighted blanket.”
According to the two teachers, having a sensory room is an essential component of their educational day.
“It’s hard to teach a child who is dysregulated,” Phillips said. “They need a place to get their sensory needs met. That is why a place like this is so important to them. If they need the crash pad, they can get on the crash pad. If they just need to calm down, they can calm down. Because once their sensory needs are met, you can teach them academically anything.”
Even though the sensory room has been open only a short time, Phillips already is seeing the impact on her students.
“The improvement that I’ve seen with the kids who have already been in here has been drastic,” the veteran educator said. “They come in here, and a lot of them are getting their needs met. They’re able to go back into their classroom, and they’re able to learn. They’re able to sit there to get everything that they need to be able to learn.”
The sensory room is helping Edusei, who has taught in Cobb since 2011, achieve her goal as an educator.
“I want to give (my students) as much as I can give,” she said. “I want to give them love. I want to give them the ability to be themselves. I want to help them grow into good citizens and be productive in the community.”
Beyond all the potential the room represents for current and future students, it has another special connection to the hearts of the Baker teachers. As part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the school dedicated the room to the memory of two Baker students, Michael and Olivia, who both died June 21, 2021.
“This special dedication, it means a lot to me,” Phillips said. “I did have Michael in my classroom for three years. We always wanted to do something to honor them and to keep their memory alive.”
The teachers were able to share the day with Michael’s and Olivia’s families, who attended the ceremony.
“For the parents to be here and part of the ribbon cutting was very emotional for many of us,” Phillips said. “I hope they can see how much their children were loved here. We just wanted to keep their memory alive.”
The dedication and sensory room reinforce Baker’s reputation for being an inclusive environment where all children feel loved. When Edusei and Phillips bring their students to the room, they know it’s exactly what the youngsters need.
“My students are definitely engaged in this space, and they don’t want to leave,” Edusei said. “They don’t want to leave.”