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Holyoke, Mass., School Introduces Sensory Walk To Help Students Learn

A Holyoke, Massachusetts, public school has something new to help students learn. It's not on a chalkboard or in a book. It's on the floor.

At the H.B. Lawrence School, five first graders are guided across designs on the floor of a hallway — first, big boldly-colored dots with the letters of the alphabet, then onto hopscotch, and soon, lily pads the kids need to jump between.

It's called a sensory walk, and takes up to three minutes to complete.

"In the beginning, the students start off slow," said behavior specialist Alissa Izzo. "And then they get a little more active by doing the jumping, and the hopscotch, and frog leaps. And then the students actually get back down, where they're slowing down — where they're crossing that midline of that road that they have to follow, and it calms their body down."

Touching and moving can be particularly helpful for kids with ADHD and sensory issues like autism.

The walk was the idea of Alison L'Heureux, who said she'd heard about sensory walks being used at other school around the country. She's a social worker who helps students with social and emotional disabilities but says the walk is for all students.

"Sometimes kids are in the classroom, and they're feeling fidgety, and they're needing to get up and move — 'cause sometimes little kids have a lot of energy," she said. "And we have a recess once a day, but it's only for 15, 20 minutes. It's typically not enough."

First-grader Jaleyna Santos may not grasp all that behind the new designs on her school's floor, but she's a fan.

"It's cool, 'cause [with] the lily pads, you could pretend you're a frog," she said.

The Holyoke school district says it's measuring how long it takes preschool students to settle down and be ready to learn with and without the sensory walk. With the walk cost under $100, the district says, it's planning to bring it to other schools.  

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education, and politics. Working with correspondent Morley Safer, he reported from locations across the United States as well as from India, Costa Rica, Italy, and Iraq.
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