An Interactive Sensory Pathway Comes To New Branches Charter Academy

Ten students from Grand Rapids Community College’s Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA Club) designed, created, and sought-out community partners to bring an interactive sensory pathway to New Branches Charter Academy.

“When we discussed the idea of installing a sensory hallway in a school, I immediately felt a deep connection to New Branches,” project leader Betsy Bell said. “My husband, Landon Bell, is the STEAM teacher at New Branches and he is always asking for my advice on how to help kids who need constant breaks, display behavior concerns during transitions, or show difficulty sitting still in the classroom. I knew that the best thing for these students was an interactive pathway. Movement is very important in order for students to channel their excessive energy.”

Mr. Landon Bell is New Branches’ K-8 STEAM educator and he has a passion for unique styles of learning. Mr. Bell’s wife, Betsy, and her OT team were looking for a unique, sensory integration project. She approached Mrs. Larkin about creating an interactive pathway for students to move and learn on, to which Mrs. Larkin happily welcomed.

“I’m so grateful to the GRCC team for bringing this sensory walk to New Branches! We are grateful to Betsy Bell for planning and implementing this entire project with her SOTA team. Their efforts allowed every part of the Space Walk to be donated from some fantastic community partners: Fleet Graphics, Wolverine Heating & Cooling and Las Vegas Color Graphics,” said principal Terry Larkin.

Students walking through the NBCA spacewalk
As students sit in their chairs and focus on learning, they start to fidget and often need a break. Moving in different directions channels excess energy which allows the brain to reset and refocus on learning. Space Walk is a place where preschool through eighth-grade students can go to challenge their senses. The new, interactive Space Walk encourages children to explore new movement methods. The Space Walk provides a strategic layout of specific activities that alternate between high energy movements like jumping and running to low energy movements like wall push-ups or squats. Movements like hopscotch, spinning, and tiptoeing is also included.

When kids have been in the classroom for a period of time, it is important to give them a brain break. This provides kids with processing time to interpret what they have been learning. Getting up and moving around can help with sending the blood flow throughout the body and carrying more oxygen to the brain. The Space Walk is a great brain break because it is teaching the students how to learn by using visual processing skills,” explained Betsy.

The walkway was recently installed but just opened to students this week. It focuses on balance, hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness. The walk helps to refine gross motor skills as well as channel excessive energy. It also helps with behavioral control and concentration in the classroom.

Star sticker on the ground that reads, tiptoe through the small moon rocks, and reach for the stars

“During high and low energy movements you are working on a concept called visual processing. Visual processing skills are what the brain uses to make sense of what we see in the world around us. Breaking up the activity into every single motion, you will notice how much you are practicing focus and problem-solving skills. Imagine jumping onto the first planet, you can see the next planet to jump on, but you have to process and determine how your body is going to get from one planet to the next. After completing this way of thinking over and over, it makes it easier when the student will have to sit down and focus for a period of time on their school work. Focus, problem-solve, complete task…repeat,” Betsy said.

Students can utilize the Space Walk when transitioning between class and lunch, or if the student is overwhelmed and has permission to go take a two-minute brain break.

“This project came together with the help of several sponsors. The president of our SOTA organization’s wife works at Fleet Graphics of Holland and was our connection to getting the graphics printed. Originally I was planning on using a portion of our SOTA budget money, reimbursement from New Branches, and was hoping to have the rest paid for by a GoFundMe. That was going to be a lot of hoops to jump through. I sent all of my ideas and budget plan to my professor, Mrs. Pegg, to approve. Her response was completely unexpected. She stated that her husband Dan’s company, Wolverine Heating and Cooling, was going to pay for the entire project. While I was meeting with my poster committee, another classmate commented that her mom’s company could print the poster for free. The fear of how to pay for this project quickly went away and I was able to focus all of my time on improving the Space Walk,” Betsy concluded.

Thank you to our sponsors: Fleet Graphics, Wolverine Heating & Cooling, Las Vegas Color Graphics

Check out this video created by GRCC.

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