AZEdNews classroom grant awarded to Canyon Springs STEM Academy teacher - AZEdNews
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AZEdNews classroom grant awarded to Canyon Springs STEM Academy teacher


Canyon Springs Special Education Teacher And Student Support Services Coordinator LaRae Klay, Center, Accepts The AZEdNews Teacher Classroom Grant Check From Canyon Springs STEM Academy Assistant Principal April Fraley, Right. Photo By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

The second AZEdNews classroom grant goes to LaRae Klay for a sensory boards initiative for students at Canyon Springs STEM Academy in the Deer Valley Unified School District.

The sensory boards will be displayed in specific locations around campus to provide students with a sensory walk, which combined with other sensory materials on the board – such as twinkling lights, Velcro and buttons – displayed to foster engagement, will provide learning opportunities and a break-time space for students who need one, Klay said.

“We were thinking of using these boards as a way to provide a multi-sensory experience for students with special needs; however, we were looking to involve the entire school by having students – older, younger, those with disabilities, those without disabilities – put in some ideas for what they wanted to see on these boards,” said Klay, a special education teacher for second- and third-grade students and the student support services coordinator at the school in Anthem.

Video by Morgan Willis/AZEdNews: How LaRae Klay will use the AZEdNews classroom grant

When Canyon Springs Assistant Principal April Fraley walked into the classroom Klay shares with another teacher, she said “We have some really exciting news to share.”

“You are actually the AZEdNews grant winner for your sensory boards,” Fraley said as she presented Klay with the AZEdNews classroom grant $200 check.

“I got the grant!” Klay said then let out an excited scream. “I was just thinking about this the other day, and I was like darn it, I never heard back.”

Then Fraley said, “You are amazing, and we’re so excited you got this award. We were super happy when (Principal) Tricia (Graham)” found out. You deserve it!”

“Oh my gosh, now we can do these boards,” Klay said. “Thank you, so much!”

AZEdNews classroom grant awarded to Canyon Springs STEM Academy teacher LaRae-Klay-5-Cropped-1024x825
Canyon Springs special education teacher and student support services coordinator LaRae Klay, center, accepts the AZEdNews Teacher Classroom Grant check from Canyon Springs STEM Academy Assistant Principal April Fraley, right. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Using sensory boards on campus is another way to ignite curiosity and foster engagement and learning, especially for students with special needs who benefit from direct, sensory input and output, Klay said.

“These boards are not exclusive. They’re not just for our students with special needs,” Klay said. “We want the whole school to be involved as a way to connect and build a culture of compassion.”

Students from across all grade levels will help design and build a sensory board as part of a STEM activity, and students will help others use the boards appropriately, Klay said.

Sensory boards provide students the space to explore, engage and learn by experiencing input and output, Klay said.

“Students with special needs may show more meaningful engagement in their classrooms if they are offered periodic breaks to help them release energy and process information,” Klay said.

Klay said her students haven’t formally used sensory boards before.

“We don’t have anything that’s mobile from room to room,” Klay said. “We have smaller sensory tools, but if they’re in one room it’s difficult for students in another room to get them. If they’re on one grade level, it’s harder for grade levels to share. We want them to participate any time that they can.”

It’s well known in the field of education, that children learn best through play, and these sensory boards will create natural opportunities for students to move, touch, build, interact, engage, invent and problem-solve, Klay said.

“We are a STEM Academy so we thought that building a sensory board would play into, if not showcase all of our STEM qualities – our science, technology, engineering, and math – and give the students a chance to shine in those areas,” Klay said.

The project will “also highlight the strengths of our students who are typically labelled as special education, but really showcase how they can have some input in building these boards as well,” Klay said.

“It’s a collaborative effort, and we can’t wait for it to get going,” Klay said.

Please continue to apply for the AZEdNews classroom grant as a new winner will be chosen soon from current and previous entries.

Click here to apply for the AZEdNews classroom grant