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09/09/03 - Gladewater

Sensory Classroom is Example for State

An East Texas teacher is being honored by the state for reaching children once thought unreachable. Gladewater I.S.D. has a higher per capita population of severely handicapped children than any other district in Texas. But it also has Sky Holcomb's Sensory Classroom.

The first thing you notice in Sky's class isn't the dimmed lights or the disco ball or the music or the scent of fresh oranges. It's the serenity. And that's on purpose. "The environment communicated 'I'm safe, I'm at school,.'" says Holcomb. "'Everything's going to be for me today.' And, it was just a calming way to start the day."

Sky has taught severly handicapped children for 13 years. Over that time she slowly developed the Sensory Classroom. Everything here either elimnates distractions or stimulates exploration. "We hear car horns and kids in the back seat and questions and answers and the radio and we tune it out. We have that ability to do that. And for some of these children, not only can they not tune it out, it over arouses them."

But sky doesnt' settle for keeping children quiet. Now she wants them to learn. Not the abc's or addition, but life skills. "You're giving them things that we take for granted. The ability to feed yourself. The ability to have mobility."

One of the studetnts here is 12 year old Christina. She's two and a half feet tall, and 36 pounds.  Tuesday, she started pulling herself up and down for the first time in her life. Before Christina started in Sky's class, she couldn't take a step, or pay attention to the people around her. Now she's curious about others, wants to walk, and last year, she learned how to hug. "It was something that I never thought that I would be able to have," says Christina's mother Cari Hoefer. "It was hard, because, you have a child that you want to hug on and you want to kiss on and she didn't want that. She wanted to just be left alone. When it does happen you just feel it inside that this is unconditional love. That she's hugging you for no purpose of getting a candy bar or a toy. She's hugging you because that's all she knows is the love."

Christina can now share her love with her mom thanks to the stimulus of the Sensory Room; fibre optic lights, bubble lamps, soft music, and Sky Holcomb. "It's the best feeling in the world. It's equal to your own child taking their first steps. Sometimes it's even more."

Holcomb's class at Weldon Intermediate in Gladewater is being called a "Promissing Practice" by the Texas Education Agency. That means they want other districts to follow her lead. So much so that the T.E.A. Will pay for any school anywhere in the state to travel to East Texas just to see the Sensory Classroom.

Stephen Parr, reporting.

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