Linda Nolen Center teacher wins Design Star Challenge

Published 4:37 pm Friday, September 4, 2015

Michele Murray's sensory corner gives her students an calm and relaxing environment to explore their senses. (Contributed)

Michele Murray’s sensory corner gives her students an calm and relaxing environment to explore their senses. (Contributed)

By JESSA PEASE / Staff Writer

PELHAM— In one corner of Michele Murray’s classroom, students can explore each of their senses. Using black lights with glow-in-the dark and neon paint, kids can watch colors dance on walls, and they can run their fingers over textures on a sensory board while listing to dangling wind chimes.

Murray, a teacher at the Linda Nolen Learning Center in Pelham, calls this her sensory corner, and it recently won the classroom Shelby County Design Star Challenge.

“It’s so exciting to be able to share our world here with everybody,” Murray said. “I always tell people I have the best class in the school, and, of course, I think we have the best school in the world.”

The contest wasn’t something the teachers had time to prepare for either. It started when Michelle Hall, the head of the fine arts department, was out visiting all the schools and classrooms. When Hall noticed all the decorations, she decided to hold a contest.

Murray said there were 60 entries from all over the county. Out of all the submissions, there were eight finalists that were put to a vote on Facebook. Murray’s corner received more than 800 votes.

“It was amazing,” Murray said. “I was just kind of in shock over it. Everyone that submitted just had incredible classrooms.”

Although most of Murray’s classroom is decorated as an elaborate rainforest, complete with a waterfall and trees, the sensory corner was something special she and her aide, Dana Nivens, created. It was originally Nivens’ idea.

“It’s a special area created for (my students),” Murray said. “They play with the wind chimes. They reach up, and they choose to go over there… They watch the lights and just go to town on that. I have one student who that is his favorite thing, playing with the wind chimes.”

Murray works with students who have serious and profound special needs, and she said they decided to run with the idea. They had a high school student create the board of different textures, and they added lights and the chimes.

She said the corner gives her students a calm and relaxing area to simply explore their senses. It also gives them a chance to focus on their strengths and the things the do versus their weaknesses.

Murray’s class won a $50 gift card to the Teacher Resource Center and two tickets to the Taste of Shelby County. She said the true reward is seeing her students interact with the sensory corner.

“That’s all I ever wanted to do,” Murray said. “They are the amazing ones. We just wanted to make an environment for them to learn and have fun in.”