SYLACAUGA, Ala. (WIAT) — Students and teachers at Sylacauga City Schools are taking learning to the next level.
What started as a math project with a group of seventh graders at Nichols-Lawson Middle School has not only continued into another school year, but the students are wanting to see it through its entire development.
They’re working to build an all-inclusive playground for children of all needs.
It started after multi-needs instructor Amy Carlton helped to design a “zensational” sensory room at the school.
“Really, it should be available to any child who needs that safe place to decompress and be able to recollect their thoughts,” Carlton said. “These students many times get in trouble for behaviors that are often times out of their control. Instead of getting in trouble, I wanted to be proactive.”
The sensory room includes soft music, dim lighting with changing colors under the fiberoptic jellyfish, squishy floor — all offering a sensory escape for children of all needs. There’s even a trampoline in the corner for jumping out the jitters.
“I believe in being proactive and providing children with an opportunity to prevent those negative behaviors from occurring,” Carlton said.
But she wanted to take this vision one step further. Last year, she partnered with math teacher Gay Coley to give students with special needs a space outdoors to call their own.
Judson Howell, now in eighth grade, is still part of the class last year that started designing a playground for the students with special needs. They meet regularly in the eighth grade to see it through.
“They need something else to do because they can’t have a regular P.E. in the gym like we can,” Howell said. “I try to treat everybody like family. Me being a Christian and everything I know that’s what God did and that’s what I’m supposed to do, too, so that’s what I try to do.”
The project is called Lots of Love. It has not stopped past the design phase. These eighth graders meet regularly with Coley and are now writing letters to local businesses to partner up and help build the playground on the Nichols-Lawson campus.
“It makes me feel really happy for them and makes me feel that they can have and be involved,” eighth grader Haigan Machen said. “Everybody wants to have a normal childhood.”
Sylacauga City Schools Superintendent Dr. Michele Eller said this helps to provide a more successful school experience for every student.
“These students not only learned math skills that are viable to everyday life, but they also learned about inclusion,” Eller said. “They also learned about equality, and these are things you can’t necessarily teach in a regular math lesson. It’s amazing to see veteran teachers really jump on board, collaborate together — to see a school building collaborate together and allow their students to think outside the box using project-based learning but also think about their peers in the building.”
Eller said this project will grow wings to other districts and they want to help.
“If we can do something that can have a positive impact on our children that other systems can glean from, then we need to share,” Eller said. “I’ve worked in four different districts, and it’s not something that you see. You may see it sometimes at an elementary level, but you don’t really see beyond that.”
Carlton said she’d like to see this happen at all Alabama schools, and she wants to help other districts create spaces that are inclusive for all students.
“We want to make sure children feel safe in their environment,” Carlton said. “For so many students we are their safe place. We are their stability.”
The students will be sending letters soon to local businesses and are hopeful to get the grants they need to build the playground.
You can donate directly to the cause by making checks payable to Nichols-Lawson Middle School for the Lots of Love project, or you can make that contribution online.