NEW BERLIN — New Berlin Girl Scout and middle school student Brynley Luca recently installed a “sensory path” in the halls of Unadilla Valley Elementary School, to help students with sensory overload take a break from the classroom and go through fun movements to work out excess energy and boost concentration.
Installing the path was part of Brynley’s Girl Scout Silver Award project. The Silver Award is the highest award a Girl Scout Cadet can earn, according to Brynley's mother Amy Huggins, and focuses on getting involved in and helping the community.
"The Silver Award is a take action project where they have to spend a specific amount of hours doing something that’s going to be for the good of the community, or better for the community," Huggins explained. "She has to find a need in the community, she has to find why it’s important, and what she can do to make a difference in the community."
"So she had to find an issue she cared about, had to explore the community and think of how the issue could affect the community, and then choose a project. And then she has to develop the project and make a plan to put it into motion, and share her story, reflect, and basically celebrate what she did," she added.
According to Huggins, Brynley decided on a sensory path after seeing some information about them online. Having ADHD herself, as well as a younger brother with autism, Brynley could see how the path would help students with things like excess energy and focus.
The path is a series of industrial-strength vinyl decals, placed on the floor and walls of UV Elementary's main hallway, that takes students through a series of motions to "get the wiggles out."
"The sensory path helps the kids with sensory integration. So it gives them a zone for them to work through their busyness, their energy, their sensory overload that they may have in the school," Huggins explained. "Stretch, move, squat, jump, hop, push against the wall, different things like that, that would help them hopefully get some of the excess energy that they have out, and then basically move on to going back into the classroom and being able to hopefully take a breath and focus again."
"It just gives them tools to help them self regulate," said UV Elementary Principal Katie Hanson. "School can be fun, but it’s good to get your energy out, and it’s in the main elementary hallway so everybody in the building can use it."
The sensory path was installed during Spring Break, just two weeks ago. Although it hasn't been in the school long, Hanson said the path is already being widely used and enjoyed by students of all ages.
"As kids walk down they all stop, and jump, and squat, and have a good time," she said. "They’ve been using it a lot. Everybody uses it. Even the high school kids have come down and done some things on it. They don’t like that we get to have so much fun in elementary school."
Brynley decided where each part of the path would be laid in the hallway and spent the week installing each piece along with the help of her mom and stepdad, some of her friends, and another Girl Scout parent.
"It wasn’t a process where you just laid everything down, we had to do pre-work," said Hanson. "Since it was going to become a permanent part of the building, the goal was to make a difference with students. We wanted to make sure that we did it the best we could so that we could get the most out of it, and it’s amazing."
Reaching the point of installing the path was no small feat. Brynley had to develop her idea, meet with school officials, therapists, and teachers, fundraise, and more.
"A lot goes into the planning: the research, the speaking, writing letters out to different places asking if they could put bottle and can tubs in their businesses," said Huggins. "She has to have a plan on how to maintain and keep it. So like if something were to rip or tear she’s got to have extras, which she does."
"She had to do the fundraising for the sensory path itself, it had to be approved by the school, it had to be an industrial strength path that would stand up to time," she continued. "She’s had to promote it, she’s had to meet with the occupational therapist at the school, the physical therapist at the school, to discuss what type of path would be best for kids, how it could be used and utilized, and stuff like that."
To fund the purchase and shipping of the decals, which cost more than $1,500, Huggins said Brynley collected and counted over 36,000 cans to recycle. The money raised will also go toward long-term maintenance of the path, and possibly a second sensory path in the future.
"She would still love to do a second path. So she has a little bit started and is still taking donations for another one," said Huggins. "Even though this one is down and she could stop, she still would like to do another path, and that's hopefully going to be in the works before the start of the new year."
All in all, Brynley invested well over the minimum requirement of 50 hours for her Silver Award, and continues to dedicate time and energy to the growing project.
"We’re very proud of Bryn. It’s a lot of work to get your Silver Award, and we’re very proud of her," said Girl Scout Membership Support Manager Eileen Schultis.
Huggins and others involved with Brynley's efforts hope the sensory path will adorn the halls of UV Elementary and continue to help its students for many years to come.
"The school is proud of her, and of course we as a troop are proud of her," said Huggins. "We’ve got a great little troop here in New Berlin and we’re certainly proud of all of our accomplishments, but this is a big one for sure because it's affected so many kids. It’s going to hopefully be there for lots of kids in the long run."