Davenport University occupational therapy students build sensory room to benefit children at Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center

Students at Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center (GRCDC) will now have a place to escape from sensory overload and experience something new. Filled with a lively variety of color and equipment like a pod swing, sound machine, resistance tunnel and fidget toys, the new sensory room at the school will provide a safe environment for students to explore and interact with their surroundings.

GRCDC’s new sensory room was funded and built by 39 student volunteers from Davenport University’s Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA). SOTA is a student-run organization that serves to promote professional development of occupational therapy (OT) students through educational events, volunteer opportunities, leadership opportunities and giving back to the community.

Davenport University SOTA Members

Once primarily used to help students with autism spectrum disorder or sensory processing disorder, sensory rooms are becoming increasingly mainstream because of the benefits they offer to all students. Sensory rooms can help students develop and engage their senses, which can be calming while also fostering skills such as creativity, concentration and more.

“As occupational therapists, we know that sensory integration and regulation impacts everything we do in our lives. By providing education about and a space to practice sensory regulation strategies, students have an increased likelihood of succeeding in and out of the classroom,” said Davenport SOTA member Tracy Mason.

To build the sensory room, SOTA volunteers began selling Biggby Coffee coupon cards through a partnership with Adrenaline Fundraising of Michigan in August of 2018. Through their fundraising efforts, they well surpassed their original goal of $600, raising a total of $3,628.

It was through these funds and additional in-kind donations that volunteers were able to purchase paint, flooring, decor and furniture as well as sensory equipment and educational materials. They also commissioned a muralist to give the room a sea life theme, aligning with GRCDC’s narwhal logo.

“We are so thrilled with our partnership with Davenport,” said GRCDC Superintendent Lisa Heyne.

“At GRCDC, we believe in education based on relationships. This means that all adults have the responsibility to know each of our students deeply and learn what they need to feel safe, loved and successful.”

GRCDC is a public school academy chartered under Grand Rapids Public School District that serves over 270 students enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade.  

GRCDC Superintendent Lisa Heyne

“Many of our students have specific sensory needs and all people have needs for sensory input. Having this amazing resource right in our school will allow staff to support students in caring for their minds and bodies while helping them become calmer and more focused in the classroom,” said Heyne.

“Our new sensory room never could have happened without the work and dedication of the OT students from Davenport.”  

GRCDC student & Dr. Ashley McKnight, Davenport University SOTA faculty advisor

SOTA volunteers began the renovation work in January 2019 and have finished installing the lighting, carpeting, decorations and sensory equipment. A ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening of GRCDC’s new sensory room will be held at the end of March.

“This year, SOTA completed an extraordinary project by designing a sensory room for the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center. The project aligned perfectly with the purpose of the organization and the sensory room will serve as a way to increase awareness of the profession of occupational therapy while leaving a lasting impact on the local community,” said Dr. Ashley McKnight, Davenport University SOTA faculty advisor.

“It was incredible to watch the students in SOTA grow and work together so seamlessly to complete this project. They had to think and make decisions like an occupational therapist while designing the sensory room and I am so impressed with their work.”


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