LOS LUNAS — Going into the new school year, students and staff at Los Lunas Schools will now be able to pause, reflect and reset in the comfort of specialized sensory rooms at each campus.

Sensory rooms are specially designed rooms with comforting stimuli. They are quiet, usually dimly lit and contain a variety of soothing objects to interact with.

Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photos
Unique and comforting furniture is dispersed across Desert View Elementary’s sensory room along with weighted stuffed toys, sensory walls, soothing lights and more.

“It gives students and staff a place to regulate and focus on how they’re feeling,” said Susan Chavez, LLS chief student services officer. “It’s a nice break from whatever anxiety or stresses may be occuring in their life at the time. I think that’s really important because we are a busy society and we need time to regulate our senses and have a reset.”

Chavez said every school in the district has a sensory room housed in existing rooms that have been repurposed.

“It is of course for students with special needs, but we know it’s purposeful for all our students and staff,” said Chavez.

Desert View Elementary principal Diedra Martinez admires hanging lights in the sensory room.

As a result of COVID, Los Lunas Schools received a large amount of federal funds dedicated to learning loss and social and emotional learning due to the toll of the pandemic.

“We were isolated, routines were changed, students had to interact with teachers over Zoom, it wasn’t the same type of relationships,” said Chavez. “We said, ‘What can we do to support all our school sites with these funds?’”

Chavez said they heard the idea of sensory rooms at various webinars and conferences. After conducting further research, they created a sensory room task force made up of staff from various role groups.

“We really wanted to be purposeful, thoughtful and evidence based in designing the sensory rooms,” said Chavez. “Each school has their own needs, so every school has a different sensory room.”

Chavez said the task force put in a lot of hours of training to learn how to make the most out of the sensory rooms to support students. They also curated a large menu of item options that personnel from each school got to pick from to put in their campus’ sensory room.

“LLS allocated about $100,000 to each school site to purchase equipment for sensory rooms,” Chavez said. “They decided what they wanted based on what was present for their current culture.”

A weighted, stuffed turtle sits among light-up bubble tubes in a nook within the Desert View Elementary sensory room.

While there are overlapping elements in each room, Chavez said they will be grade level appropriate for elementary, middle and high school.

Access to the sensory room is dependent on each school site and is on a as-needed basis. An adult must also be present in the room with the student.

“Students can ask to go in there. The time allotted is dependent on the situation. There’s going to be some in there longer than others and some may only need a short amount of time. So it’s flexible, and dependent on what the students need.”

Chavez said sensory rooms help student’s social and emotional learning because it gives them  the opportunity to be in the moment and converse without extra distractions.

“A student may not be able to tell you how they’re feeling outside that room, but when they go in there and they focus in, they are able to talk more easily about what’s going on,” said Chavez. “I think sometimes we may have a certain feeling, but then we go on to TikTok or search something on YouTube and we may not have that conversation or self reflection we may have otherwise had.

“We’re learning as we go. It’s not something we’ve had in the district before, but we are really proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

What’s your Reaction?

Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.