Sensory paths – a way for students to help regulate and also get extra movement while in school – are becoming more popular in school districts across the county and Waterloo has joined the growing ranks, which also includes Marshall.

Last year, Waterloo School District applied for a small grant from the Watertown Health Foundation to purchase a sensory path for the elementary school. The funds allowed the district to purchase and install a Pirate Walk.

Pupil services director Victoria Kalscheuer presented a Power Point featuring video during the Jan. 13 Waterloo School Board meeting to let the public see how the path is used and hear the reactions from students and staff.

According to New York-based occupational therapist Pepper Franchina-Gallagher, BS/MS OTR/L, “a sensory path is a colorful, creative and playful way for kids to build sensory pathways, connections in the brain that are responsible for sight, touch, sound, etc., which enable kids to complete complex, multi-stage tasks. A sensory path is a great way for kids to develop motor skills like balance, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness, and is normally made with stickers that can be stuck to any surface. Sensory paths help children to increase their energy or to calm and organize their bodies.”

There are directions on what action to take for each portion of the path, be it a frog leap, crab walk or yoga pose. The path also features numbers and the letters of the alphabet students may choose to recite as they move along the Pirate Walk.

Kalscheuer pointed out how some students use the entire path while others may choose to only go through part of the path and showed several videos of students using the Pirate Walk to fit their needs.

“They make their own accommodations as they go,” the administrator said.

Kalscheuer said classes may use the sensory walk daily as the students go from their classroom to other rooms in the school. She said children can also ask their teacher for a pass to the use the sensory path or a staff member may encourage the pupil to use the Pirate Walk pass.

“The Pirate Walk is for everyone in the district,” Kalscheuer said.

The sensory path has been available since the start of the current school year and the administrator has seen more students and staff use the tool as the year has progressed.

Most of the children who use the paths are in grades pre-kindergarten through eight. A comment from middle school teacher Jessica Leonard noted her students like to use the path when visiting their elementary classroom reading buddies.

“The sensory walk in our school is a great addition because it provides a place and opportunity for any student to take an active break and release any built up energy in order to be more successful in the classroom,” Leonard wrote.

Kalscheuer said since implementing the Pirate Walk, teachers are reporting students are able to stay more on track during the day and it is impacting the children’s learning in a positive way.

“And students are reporting it helps them better cope with feelings of frustration, anger, boredom,” she said.

Special education teacher Noa Martinsen was quoted in the presentation, describing the sensory path as “a beautiful, quick and effective tool to address physical, mental and emotional needs for regulation in any and all students.”

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