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Luzerne County Head Start now has sensory room

The sensory room at the Luzerne County Head Start Beekman Street Center provides a peaceful escape from the classroom.
Haley O'Brien
The sensory room at the Luzerne County Head Start Beekman Street Center provides a peaceful escape from the classroom.

Glowing water tanks with bubbles and fish set the tone in the room.

It’s a calm environment designed for students at Luzerne County Head Start’s Beekman Street Center to use when they get overwhelmed.

“If a child is having some issues regulating themselves in the classroom, then one of the staff would be able to bring the child down,” said Amy Poperowitz, a family worker at the center in Wilkes-Barre.

“It’s providing safety for them, a place for them to relax, a place to not have the audience they would if they were in the classroom,” she added. “The child can come here, regulate themselves and then return back to the classroom.”

A group from the Leadership Northeast Core Class of 2024 known as the “Head Start Heroes” took on the project and raised the money to bring it to fruition.

“We wanted something that was going to have a lasting impact,” said Amy Hoyt from the group.

They met with an occupational therapist at Beyond Behavior Consulting and visited another sensory room to learn what elements to add.

Many of the toys in the room focus on the senses. There are squishy toys and a variety of textures on the walls.

Elizabeth Tula says she and her three-year-old Itzae were shown the room one day before going home.

“He was kind of a little frustrated when he got out of the classroom, when I picked him up,” she said. “So when we came here and Miss Amy showed us, he was all over the place, he went in the light with the sharks, he was playing over here with the shark and also he was touching the sensory things.”

The compression canoe has also been a hit.

“It gives children the feeling of compression which is a safe, healthy way to kind of provide physical stimulation to help calm nerves and ease emotions,” Hoyt said of the item. “Whether they’re sensory-seeking or on the autism spectrum, or neurotypical children who just are overwhelmed and frustrated, the same as a hug feels comforting, that compression feels comforting as well.”

The room also has children's books about emotion and crash pads for relaxation. The group raised $5,000 for the project and received even more donations through an Amazon Wishlist.

Most classes at Luzerne County Head Start have about 16 students and two or three staff members. The new sensory room will allow a child to enter a quiet space with one-on-one supervision.

“You don't know what the kids are coming in with, what they're bringing in with them from what happened the night before or what happened in the morning,” Poperowitz said. “So this is good space for them to come and get everything out that they need to get out, and then be able to get back into their regular day.”

Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org