A safe place to learn

Perry Meridian senior creates one-of-a-kind sensory room for students with special needs

By Stephanie Dolan

To attain the honor of Eagle Scout, a Boy Scout must meet certain requirements, including the completion of a service project that demonstrates both his leadership skills as well as his commitment to duty.

A senior at Perry Meridian High School has completed his service project in the interest of earning the rank of Eagle Scout. His name is Kevin Waggoner, he’s 17 and – before the school year began at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School – he installed a sensory room to be utilized by and for students with cognitive, emotional and physical disabilities.

“I was looking for a project, and I was originally going to do a handicapped playground,” he said. “I researched the prices for that, and it was way more than I could have raised in the amount of time that I had. One of my best friends’ mom was the occupational therapist at Abraham Lincoln Elementary, and she said they needed a sensory room. I started researching that, and we decided that’s what we were going to do.”

“I was very excited when I heard about this,” Abraham Lincoln Principal John Sponsel said. “This room really was kind of a dream of ours. We had a room for sensory here, but it just had a few items in it. It wasn’t conducive to a process where you walked in the room and knew exactly how to support students. Now the room is user friendly.”

“They actually have one of the largest amounts of special needs children in the whole township,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner set up a Go Fund Me page to get the fundraising going for his project.

A heart for special needs

“It really surprised me how easy it was and how quick it was,” he said. “In two weeks, I had raised $3,500. A lot of it was from people I’d never met before but who were involved in the special-needs community. There was a lot of outreach from the community that really helped that out.”

Kevin Waggoner sits in his favorite areas of the sensory room he created for this Eagle Scout Project. (Submitted photo)

The room consists of a light area with lighted tables and a bubble panel on the wall along with several manipulative boards. Some have magnets and others have ball drops and other tactile devices. There is a workout area where students can get their energy out and includes an exercise mat, Bosu ball, trampoline and a swing. There are also bookshelves filled with many toys and devices.

“Every area is color coded with a rug that corresponds with whatever mood a student might be feeling,” Waggoner said. “If I’m feeling energetic and need to get some energy out, I’ll go over to the orange rug.”

“On a regular basis I would say we have between 50 and 60 students who use the room on a regular basis,” Sponsel said. “We hold three of our life skills classes in the room. These are special education classes for those with more severe cognitive needs. But we have been trying to support all our students both socially and emotionally. This has become a major need for our building. Sometimes a student just has a bad day and is struggling just getting in the right frame of mind for learning. This room provides a safe spot and helps them learn to the best of their ability.”

From start to finish, Waggoner said the whole project took about six months.

“I started fundraising in January,” Waggoner said. “I raised the money and had to wait for the ‘go ahead’ from the school. It was the end of May through mid-July that we were working on it, and we finished it in July. It was an old computer lab so it’s a pretty big room.”

Big project, big plans

This may have been a big project, but Waggoner is used to projects as he’s been a scout since the age of 5. And, next year, he plans to enter the military, most likely entering the Naval Academy, before studying law.

“I’ve learned how to be an effective leader and a good citizen, and I think just a well-rounded individual,” he said. “It’s taught me a little bit of everything.”

Waggoner also said he’s always been cognizant about the issue of disability because he had a cousin with special needs.

“I grew up around him,” he said. “I knew of that issue. I would tell people that they just need to be more aware of those people – I guess just try to do more – maybe other schools can start rooms similar to this. It doesn’t have to be an Eagle Scout project. It can just be a group of kids who want to do something nice for the community and want to do something like this.”

Waggoner raised $3,500 in two weeks to install the sensory room as part of his Eagle Scout project. (Submitted photo)

Waggoner’s cousin passed away in 2015, and he said that this room is also certainly dedicated to his memory.

While sensory rooms in public schools are not unheard of, they are more typically found in private or specialized schools.

“This is the first room of its kind for public schools on the Southside,” Waggoner said. “I hope the students who use the room can enjoy their time in school more than they would have and develop the skills they need to be successful in their life.”

Waggoner also said that the creation of this sensory room would not have been possible with the help of the Perry Township community.

“The whole Southside really,” he said. “And the staff of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School.”

“Abraham Lincoln Elementary wants to be the model for other schools on social and emotional awareness, and we want to be that model school on how to support students socially, emotionally and academically,” Sponsel said. “We want to be a well-rounded school in serving the whole student and not just what they get through math or language arts.”

Five Questions with Kevin Waggoner

Who or what inspires you?

I think people with a lot of integrity inspire me more than anything.

What is your favorite thing to do when you have downtime?

I like to go camping.

What’s your favorite TV show?

The Walking Dead

What’s your favorite movie?

Gladiator

Do you have pets?

Two cats – Jojo and Coco