The Reynoldsburg High School Summit Road campus has a room unlike any other in the district.

Special-needs students will be able to use a new sensory space at the Summit Road campus, 8579 Summit Road, that was designed and built by their classmates.

Sensory rooms provide a type of therapy for students with limited communication skills -- for example, students on the autism spectrum or those with sensory-processing issues. They help develop vocalization and motor skills by appealing to the senses through lighting, colors, textures and sounds.

According to the nonprofit foundation Autism Speaks, students with autism might have difficulty processing textures, sounds, scents, tastes, brightness and movement, which can "make ordinary situations feel overwhelming. As such, they can interfere with daily function and even isolate individuals and their families."

Jocelyn Cosgrave, the district's chief academic officer, said the room came from a desire to help build life skills and provide a dedicated space where students can calm and focus themselves.

"It's a place to go when they feel overwhelmed or as a reward or for a break in between classes. It's a way to say, 'We love and appreciate you and want you to have a space that you feel comfortable in,' " she said. "It has a swing that goes back and forth with a padded seat and pillows, a seating area with comfy furniture and a teepee for students who wanted to get in and be by themselves. It's very tactile in nature. Any time there's an animal it's authentic, so an owl is made out of feathers."

Other features of the room include LED lighting, calming music, balancing balls and six movable texture walls.

"Each side of it is decorated with a different theme -- one looks like outer space so a student can learn about space but also experience the textures," Cosgrave said. "One of the planets feels rough and another is smooth. Another one is jungle-inspired, so it has magnetic vines that can be manipulated."

Katelyn Whetsel was among the nine students from all four high school academies who worked over the summer to make the room a reality.

The students spent months researching, designing and creating the items that turned a former spare classroom and book storage into a sensory room.

Whetsel said she has a cousin with special needs in a school out of state and "this hit home for me because he's had some struggles in his school building."

Her research included talking with Reynoldsburg students and studying successful sensory rooms in other districts.

"I wanted to think about what to put in the room and what kind of benefits the items would have," Whetsel said. "I proposed textured walls, and our design team went crazy with it. We focused on designing what would be eye-catching and productive, because it is a classroom. We really wanted to make sure it was going to be useful."

The project was an example of the real-life problem-solving skills Reynoldsburg stresses in its curriculum, Cosgrave said.

"We utilize the projects in the makerspaces to benefit our own school system. For example, the students made some of the furniture and signs in-house," she said. "They were in charge of researching everything; what are some things that might be comforting to students and what would be cheaper to make versus buy. We try really hard to make sure that when we can include students, we give them authentic projects."

Popular in STEM-based education, makerspaces are areas where students can work on projects collaboratively, with a focus on technology and invention. They often are equipped with such tools as 3D printers, computers and audio-video editing software as well as arts-and-crafts supplies.

The Summit campus has about 30 special-needs students who will be able to use the room under teacher supervision, Cosgrave said.

"We have other groups of students in some of other schools that we think could benefit, so our goal is to see how this goes and try to replicate it in other buildings," she said.

Whetsel graduated from the HS2 STEM Academy and plans to major in education at Bowling Green State University. She hopes to teach science at the middle school or high school level and hopes to apply some of what she has learned on the sensory project to her future classroom.

"I hope they see it as a space to relax and calm down because the school day can be stressful -- it's a lot of interaction. This room is a place to be who they are in a space that's comfortable," Whetsel said. "These kids should be celebrated and talked about it."

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