Students at Athens Intermediate School are marching, jumping, tracing and crab-crawling their way to better socializing, problem-solving, coordination and behavior in the classroom.

The school recently added a new resource for students, a sensory path, which is the first of its kind in the Athens City Schools system.

"A sensory path is a combination of colorful and creative activities and exercises designed to build sensory pathways, or connections, in the brain," Principal Mitzi Dennis said.

It allows children to develop motor skills, including hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness, she said.

"It is designed to help students focus by calming their bodies and allowing them to become aware of their own senses and encouraging problem-solving skills," Dennis said. "These activities give students a brain break by encouraging them to step, march, tip-toe, jump, crab-crawl and trace a maze on the wall."

Special needs, others

The path was the brainchild of Brianne Hargrove, AIS teacher of Special Opportunities for Adolescent Readiness, or SOAR. She told The News Courier she wanted it for her special needs students, but it also works for other students.

Although a sensory path is not a new concept, Hargrove loved the idea and realized it could benefit many students in multiple ways, Dennis said.

“It is not just for students in my self-contained classroom," Hargrove said. "Everyone needs a break sometimes, and this is a wonderful way to do so. It not only helps them refocus and return to a more pleasant state of mind, but it also gives them an opportunity for self-reflection and independence with their emotions. I have already experienced significant changes in student morale and cannot wait to see more improvement as we continue to benefit from this magnificent resource."

Dennis said the sensory path has been "a big hit" with all of the students at AIS.

When a student uses the path, sometimes other students stop to cheer them on.

"I envision the use of the sensory path by students and teachers will increase over time, having a positive impact on student learning," she said.

Lions' help

The sensory path was made possible by generous assistance from the Lions Club of Athens, Dennis said.

Keith Barksdale, Lions Club president, said the club paid for a package the school wanted.

"They had a package they bought on a website for special needs children," he said. "They were going to get donations for it, but we just paid for the entire package. We appreciate doing that, and that's why we work on the Kiddie Carnival all year long, so we can help people with eyeglasses and eye care and other needs."

Barksdale said the sensory path is for kids having a tough time transitioning from the classroom to the lunchroom.

"Now, they just leave the classroom and turn right and follow that little path and go to the lunchroom," Barksdale said. "Before, with some of the kids, they had difficulty transitioning. But, when they go through that maze of things on the floor and the walls, it affects their thought process and calms them down so they can go to lunch and have a good time."

In addition to the floor activities, the pathway provides wall activities, such as a finger maze that a student can follow all the way through the hall and places where a student can apply pressure at various heights, he said.

"It is more difficult than it looks," Barksdale noted.

Dennis also thanked parent Deb McMurtrey for making the pathway a reality.

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