Lighting Design for Sensory Learning
I recently had the privilege of working with the Jeffco Public School District’s Fletcher Miller School, a special education institution in Lakewood, Colo., for an LED lighting and controls upgrade. The renovations are a cost-effective and energy-efficient solution, with an implementation allowing for a 50-to-60 percent lighting power reduction. But that is just one motivation for this upgrade. It has been widely proven that the low hums and minute flickers of fluorescent lighting are detected by special education students due to heightened sensory systems. This agitates and distracts students, creating a negative effect on their learning environment and classroom participation.
Successful LED design can remove harsh lighting and significantly minimizes audio effects, providing a calm and consistent learning space for students. Alongside these upgrades, we provided specialized controls for teachers to dim classroom lights, as well as a color-changing LED wall in the sensory room.
Creating a Soothing Environment
LED fixtures are highly regarded in the special education community due to the calming effect they can have on students. Irritated students are unfocused and, in the case of those with special needs, must sometimes leave the classroom and retreat to a sensory room to recalibrate. As discussed by The Christopher Douglas Hidden Angels Foundation, sensory rooms stimulate all senses of the human body to create a soothing, interactive experience for occupants of all abilities.
DLR Group’s design for Fletcher Miller’s sensory room is the centerpiece of this project, with emphasis on a wall of controlled LED lights that produce colors on the OYGBIV spectrum. You may have noticed that red was deliberately left out of this spectrum, as it has been shown to create negative reactions in some students with particularly high color perception. The colors included create a soothing environment for agitated students, allowing for quicker reintegration into the classroom and, as a result, more learning time. The Fletcher Miller School is one of a few special education with this type of system in its sensory room, making it a pioneer in the field. These children have a unique relationship with their senses, and it’s amazing to see how this environmental relationship intersects with their education.
This was a united effort, and the success of this project is measured not just by the outcome, but by the passion shown by the district and our industry partners. This project was spearheaded by Maggie Anderson, the district project manager, who has a child with special needs. She served as an invaluable resource to DLR Group throughout project development. She not only advised us on student concerns but also on creating a teacher-friendly environment. Teachers now control the intensity of light in their classrooms, allowing them to alter the LED lighting levels in accordance with the desired mood for the activity underway.
Vendor collaboration was also a critical project component. One of the light fixtures we wanted to use was not available in the school’s required voltage. Because the manufacturer was so enthusiastic to support this project, they customized a version of the color-changing LED fixture that removed red from its spectrum and met the school district’s voltage requirements.
By uniting the district’s unique understanding of its students, our engineering team, and industry partners, we have designed a truly personalized solution to meet the needs of this educational environment. I am humbled to make such a difference in the quality of education with changes as simple as LED upgrades. Most importantly, I am proud of the impact this will have on the students’ educational careers and futures.