Surrounded by a bubble tube and fibre optic lighting, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen got the relaxation experience at Red Deer’s Joseph Welsh Elementary School on Thursday morning.
Eggen toured the school’s sensory room, a calming space designed to relax students who are bothered by too much noise and commotion.
He also got a taste of some literacy and technology programs, which were all funded by the provincial Classroom Improvement Fund.
The minister announced a continuation of this funding for the 2018-19 school year. For the Red Deer Public School District, this will mean receiving an additional $1.3 million.
“It will make a big different to our district,” said superintendent Stu Henry, who noted some of the money will be used to hire six more teachers for for English Language Learner students. The rest will be spent on six pilot projects helping elementary students who need more self-regulation control, and inclusive education needs across the district.
Eggen, who allocated $75 million for classroom improvement funding throughout the province, was pleased with how the money was spent at Joseph Welsh.
“I’m very impressed,” said the minister, with how much was done “right on the ground” to improve student learning through reading and technology programs and the calming room.
In the sensory room, dim lights, padded seating and a lava-light-like bubble tube provide a soothing atmosphere for students with autism or high anxiety.
These rooms are becoming common in elementary schools as a way of calming over-stimulated students who are not in the right state for learning, said vice-principal Sean Grainger.
Eggen believes sensory environments are bringing about a greater degree of inclusion in the classroom.
He and Red Deer South MLA Barb Miller later sat in on a Leveled Literacy Intervention class taught by Learning Assistance teacher Sherri Jansen to a small group of students. When Jansen asked the Grade 4s what’s the rule for pronouncing words such as “speach?” they chanted back: “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking!”
In a technology classroom, the minister greeted students who use laptops instead of textbooks. Henry believes most children are very comfortable with technology — and need to be in preparation for their working lives.
Practising computer literacy is also regarded as a more fun way of learning than using notebooks, he added.
Eggen, a former teacher, planned to be at Hunting Hills High School on Thursday afternoon, visiting career and technology classes and engaging students in a question and answer period.