Anwarul Haq (at left), Grand Knight of Council 10232 of Knights of Columbus, and Dr. Susan Zinkil, Director of Special Education for Madison City Schools, sit in a Nook pod, a sensory station that suppresses noise and has calm lighting for students in distress. Knights of Columbus, Councils 10232 and 17519, and women’s auxiliaries from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, along with Most Merciful Jesus Catholic Parish, donated funding. CONTRIBUTED

Knights of Columbus’ donations buy pods for MCS Special Education

MADISON – Fraternal organizations at two Madison churches have helped to purchase innovative equipment to help students in special education in Madison City Schools or MCS.

Donating funds for special education were Knights of Columbus, Councils 10232 and 17519, and their women’s auxiliaries from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, along with Most Merciful Jesus Catholic Parish.

Nick Selig and Jerome Villarreal, now in charge of the Tootsie Roll Run 5K, were primary contacts with Dr. Susan Zinkil, who serves as MCS Special Education Director.

Knights of Columbus officers delivered checks on Jan. 26 to staff at MCS Central Office for portable Nook pods that special education students can use. The Nooks are portable, sensory stations that suppress noise and provide calming lighting. The manufacturer designed the Nooks to give a comforting effect for students in distress.

In his recent district update, MCS Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols thanked the local chapters of Knights of Columbus for their generous support of the MCS Special Education program.

“The Knights of Columbus delegations toured the SPED department at Journey Middle School, where a Nook Pod, bought with proceeds from the Knights of Columbus’ annual Tootsie Roll Run 5K, is in use,” Nichols said. “The Nook Pod is a specially designed, portable sensory booth used for calming anxieties and sensory overloads in students.”

“Dr. Nichols and Assistant Superintendent Mr. Eric Terrell were at a conference where they had a Nook POD, and they both tried it out,” Zinkil said. “They encouraged us to purchase one for our students with sensory needs. We did, and it was a great buy.”

“When I tried out the Nook, I almost instantaneously felt a calming effect. It also somewhat muffles outside noise,” Zinkil said.

“Everyone has sensory needs. Some students just need a walk, while others need a sensory room. Some students just need headphones to block out extraneous noise,” Zinkil said.

“It’s hard to answer what are sensory needs for every student, particularly those who are non-verbal. That’s why having this option with the Nook definitely helps,” Zinkil said. “Since it’s portable, we can move it where we’ll have students with sensory needs that are at a football game, the Tootsie Roll race or a school play.”

“The Nook we purchased cost $5,000. The Knights of Columbus has provided over $30,000 in the past two years, which has more than covered the cost,” Zinkil said. “The funds have also been used for teacher grants, iPads, sensory room items and other equipment.”

The cash donation resulted from proceeds of the Tootsie Roll 5K, which Knights of Columbus sponsors each fall. Participation increases every year.

Originally, the Nook was placed at Journey “because the race was in the vicinity and there were students there with sensory needs. That being said, we are about to move it to Bob Jones High School due to the needs of some of the students there. It will then be more centrally located and be available for students to ‘check out,’” Zinkil said.

Special education personnel locate the Nook in an available space near the students’ classrooms. A Nook has lights that can flicker on/off and can also change colors. “It can create white noise and is designed to manage noise and disruption,” Zinkil said.

“The student can sit by him/herself or a teacher can join. The teacher doesn’t need to sit in the Nook with a student. That’s another plus for some students who may feel alone,” Zinkil said.

The Tootsie Roll 5K Challenge is a certified 5K course with USA Track and Field. KOC Councils 10232 and 17519 coordinate the run, which is affiliated with KOC’s nationwide campaign.

Madison’s Knights of Columbus groups urge residents to mark their calendars and start getting in shape for the seventh annual Tootsie Roll 5K Challenge, scheduled for Nov. 2 at Madison City Schools Stadium.

KOC is a global Catholic fraternal service order. Father Michael J. McGivney founded the order on March 29, 1882. (kofc.org)

For more information, visit sjbcatholicchurch.org, madison-kofc.org or mostmercifuljesuschurch.org.

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