A new day dawned at Wilsonville Elementary School on Nov. 27, when teachers and administrators unveiled their new sensory room.
Special-education teacher Dana Nave said that the sensory room — provided by the Gaston Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) — has opened a whole new world for students with autism or special needs, as well as any student who needs a quiet place to regroup. During the Thanksgiving holiday break, members of Gaston APSO installed new equipment in the school’s sensory room, designed not only to calm students but to help them learn.
Before the redesign, the 12-by-12-foot room contained little equipment. Now, the room includes state-of-the-art gear such as manual dexterity boards, physio balls, a “ready set move” classroom activity set, a concentration rocker, textured pop beads, gel floor tiles and even a “cozy cove” where students can relax away from others.
“Lots of schools don’t have room for a sensory room,” said Nave, a special-education teacher for 14 years before coming to Wilsonville Elementary School in 2017. “Now, with this gift by Gaston APSO, our students have the equipment they need to learn coping mechanisms.
“Sometimes children get overwhelmed in the classroom, and this room helps calm them down until they can return to the classroom,” Nave said, watching her students at play. “This room is open to the whole school. Some kids function fine without being affected academically, but they have emotional needs, so this provides them a safe space as well.”
Justin Bailey, Maintenance team leader at Gaston Steam Plant, said members of Gaston APSO were thrilled to help Wilsonville Elementary School. As Gaston APSO’s Adopt-a-School, members have assisted the school for more than 10 years. This latest project began when Bailey’s wife, Julie, a teacher’s aide at Wilsonville Elementary School, mentioned the students’ needs for a sensory room to her husband.
“We’ve been living this for a couple of years,” said Bailey, former president of Gaston APSO. “I hear about their struggles.”
Bailey took the school’s needs to members of Gaston APSO’s board, and they “were off to the races.” The project gelled when KultureCity, a Birmingham nonprofit organization, stepped in to provide state-of-the-art equipment. The Gaston Chapter of the Energizers – Alabama Power’s charitable arm for retirees of Alabama Power, Southern Company Services and Southern Nuclear – donated $2,500. Gaston APSO volunteers provided all the “elbow grease,” giving more than 100 hours of personal time to set up the sensory room and improve the school and its grounds. Volunteers painted the sensory room with odor-free, school-approved paint for a soothing environment. Plant Gaston volunteers spent a day power-washing the school’s exterior and painting the hand rails for a fresh, clean look. They built a storage shed and canopies above playground benches so children can rest in shaded areas.
Wilsonville Elementary School Principal Melody Byrne said she and the teachers are very appreciative of Gaston APSO’s assistance.
“The room will be great for all of the kids,” Byrne said. “I envision children from across our school benefiting. Sometimes kids come to school carrying a heavy load.
“Families are in crisis,” she said. “This will be a great outlet for them — it’s a dream come true. We couldn’t have done this without this partnership with Gaston APSO.”
“It means a lot that we can do things like this,” Bailey said. “It takes a special teacher to do what they do. We get to help the generations that come through.”
Melissa Williamson, 2017 president of Gaston APSO Chapter, said the state organization is considering creating similar sensory rooms for other schools as part of educational efforts.