Teachers aim to reduce anxiety for better learning

By Katie Harris
The Surveyor

Josh Colbert Gischel, Wesley Mentzer, Torin Bartmann, Alexis Novell and Savannah Palos peruse gift bags donated to Berthoud El by BNI Colorado. The bags contain new sensory tool kits designed to help students self-regulate. Katie Harris / The Surveyor

Josh Colbert Gischel, Wesley Mentzer, Torin Bartmann, Alexis Novell and Savannah Palos peruse gift bags donated to Berthoud El
by BNI Colorado. The bags contain new sensory tool kits designed to help students self-regulate.
Katie Harris / The Surveyor

Teachers at Berthoud Elementary hope to reduce stress and improve learning with brand new sensory tool kits recently donated to the school.

The kits, which will be available for every grade level, contain items such as stuffed animals, mirrors, pinwheels and squeeze balls. Each item is designed to help children self-regulate.

“Due to the increasing social/emotional needs of our 21st century learners, with additional anxiety brought on by increased testing, family dynamics, and autistic spectrum disorders, many teachers expressed interest in having a toolkit in their classroom,” said Jeanne Carmichael, a first-grade teacher at Berthoud El.

Similar kits have become increasingly popular in recent years as schools look for ways to meet the unique sensory needs of today’s students. Carmichael found the idea online and first introduced it at a PTA meeting, asking for donations from the PTA to jumpstart the project. One parent, Carrie Bartmann, was eager to take on the challenge.

“I thought that my church might be able to help,” said Bartmann, a former teacher in the district and Leader of Children and Youth Ministries at Grace Community Church in Johnstown. “We frequently get items donated from the dollar stores.”

Bartmann was still mulling over the idea when fate stepped in and she was approached by Michelle Kellner, a member of her church as well as a member of BNI Colorado, Front Range Business Leaders’ chapter based in Loveland and owner of The Louver Shop of Northern Colorado.

“Michelle told me that her group was offering grants for children’s services, and asked if I could think of anything we needed,” said Bartmann. “The church didn’t need anything at the time, so I told her about Berthoud El’s needs and she got the ball rolling.”

BNI Colorado was built upon the motto “Givers Gain,” and recently came up with the idea of giving to local schools. Three nominations were submitted from schools in the district, and the organization decided to pool its resources and help all three.

Each grade level received its own kit and will utilize it according to individual needs. Carmichael plans to incorporate her kit into quiet time at the end of the day.

Kellner hopes her organization will be able to continue contributing to the kits so each classroom might eventually have its own.

Bartmann, who has three kids at Berthoud El, was glad to help. “All I really did is connect the right people,” she said. “It just worked out perfectly.”

Based on the chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” when the kits arrived, Carmichael and the students of Berthoud El couldn’t agree more.