By Lisa Bielmeier
Public Relations Director at Orleans/Niagara BOCES
Ryan Bertini was an 8-year-old student at Ohio School, when he passed away in 2005 from several medical conditions he bravely fought throughout his life. In his honor, the Remember Ryan Foundation was created. It provides grant money in support the visual and performing arts in schools.
North Tonawanda's Meadow Elementary School received a sensory room funded by the foundation. Ryan's mother, Alexandra, along with several family members, North Tonawanda City School District Superintendent Greg Woytlia, and North Tonawanda school staff were on hand for the recent dedication of "Ryan's Sensory Room."
For school social workers Jacqueline Rose and Amy Gorman, this is a dream come true.
"We have been seeing the need for a room like this for a while," Rose said. "There are children who have a very hard time calming themselves down or are having sensory overload and need a place that would be therapeutic for them. We are so pleased to have this option now. It has made all the difference and we even have students who are being proactive and asking to be sent down here. It has been great."
A sensory room is a place where children can go to remove themselves from bright lights, loud noises and other sensory experiences that can trigger anxiety and behavioral disturbances. Its goal is to give children a safe place where they can self-regulate and relax.
The new room at Meadow Elementary School contains an aquatic mural painted by students at the school, special lighting with a projector, music, a waterfall, a tent, a bean bag chair and various tactile items that help calm children.
"It feels like being under the ocean," Rose said. "We are just thrilled that we have this option now. Kids are learning to manage their own overstimulation and feelings when they come here."
The staff presented Alexandra with a book, detailing the building of the room. She said she was very touched that the room would be part of her son's legacy.
"This room is very important because it helps to keep Ryan's memory alive," Alexandra said. "A lot of the counselors here worked with him and I am very grateful for that. I am glad that his memory will live on with this room that will help other children."