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Skipping to class: Mars school debuts sensory motor pathway

Students at Mars Area Centennial School walk and jump along the interactive sensory pathway in the upstairs hallway before going to class on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Irina Bucur/Butler Eagle

ADAMS TWP — A “labor of love” is what school occupational therapist Jessica Kozar called the colorful sensory motor pathway that serpentined an upstairs hallway at Mars Area Centennial School.

Kozar spent about six hours installing the pathway before the first day of school with fellow occupational therapist on Friday. Together, Kozar and Friday are the two occupational therapists serving the Mars Area School District.

As students walk between classes, they can walk or jump along the path, spelling their name on square letters. The graphic vinyl decals, made up of pictures, letters and numbers offer students a structured break from sitting at their desks all day, reducing fidgeting and disruptive behavior, Kozar said Wednesday, Sept. 20.

The project was approved by the district in January and funded by the district’s special education department. Two other interactive pathways are in place at Mars Area Elementary School and the Mars Area Primary Center. Each pathway was funded by the department at a cost of $1,500, Kozar said.

Sixth grade special education teacher Jill Schiller said her students have used the pathway often since school started, sometimes as part of class instruction. Schiller teaches English Language Arts and shared that her class is 70 minutes long.

Followed by his classmates, sixth grade student Jackson Kaunert walks along the sensory pathway at Mars Area Centennial School on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Irina Bucur/Butler Eagle

“This is a great movement break for them,” Schiller said.

Kozar said having a structured sensory break helps students build a positive relationship with school, which is critical, especially following a pandemic that saw many children sit at home in front of screens for extended periods of time with little to no peer interaction.

Kozar said the project is intended for all students.

“Sometimes kids just need a break,” Kozar said. “They might have some anxiety, they might have some needs … the special education department not only treats kids that have these individual needs, but they’re also trying to look out for the general population.

“So by doing these, we’re helping out the general population build gross motor skills, get that sensory break, get that break from just sitting in a desk all day,” Kozar continued. “School is not just about learning. It’s also about developing fine motor, gross motor muscles, teamwork, peer relationships. Everything goes into this sensory motor pathway.”

The different pathways are geared toward different grade levels, she said. Whether they are students requiring extra movement be built into their schedules or students who benefit from stimulation between classes, the sensory pathway is for everyone.

“(Students) are expected to know so much these days. They just need a break to be a kid,” Kozar said. “We forget that they’re still kids.”

This story was updated Sept. 25, 2023 to reflect the name of the school occupational therapist as Jessica Kozar. A previous version of this story said her first name was Jennifer.

Jessica Kozar is one of two school occupational therapists serving the Mars Area School District. She and her colleague, Friday, installed the sensory pathway before the first day of classes this fall. Kozar works with the district's special education department. Irina Bucur/Butler Eagle

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