More than a dozen people packed into a classroom in Ocean Academy on March 8 for the unveiling of its new calming room.

But despite the abnormal amount of activity going on - people were taking tours of the space while others conversed over coffee and cookies - student Braden Whittington took a nap among a pile of bean bags and pillows set up in the corner.

Whittington was the perfect example of the purpose of the room: to bring calmness and comfort to its students.

Ocean Academy, part of Cape May County Special Services School District, serves the county's students ages 3-to-13 with special needs. The calming room is the school's latest addition, designed to help Ocean Academy's students emotionally self-regulate in a practical way and return to normal classroom routine, as opposed to restraint and seclusion tactics.

To support the calming room's goals, the room is painted pale blue, a color said to aid tranquility, and is filled with things that are calming to all of the senses, such as bean bags and glider benches, buckets of rice and sand for tactile stimuli, a teepee for alone time, visual bubble fountains, classical music and more.

"The most important thing about this room is for the kids to learn how to calm themselves so they can utilize the little tips they learn here to get back to class," said Susan Elmer, the autism consultant for Cape May County Special Services.

The calming room was funded in part by a grant from The Cape Education Fund and by community donations, including a large donation from this year's annual Sea Isle Polar Bear Run/Walk for Autism, which is organized by Mike and Jeanne Monichetti, of Sea Isle City, the parents of two Ocean Academy students.

Attending the unveiling ceremony were Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, District Superintendent Barbara Makoski, Ocean Academy Principal Mary Margaret Lynn, and several teachers, students and parents.

Thornton said the creation of the calming room is part of a much bigger picture.

"Many years ago, Freeholder Bill Sturm came to me and said, 'We have to do something here because the special needs children are spread all over the county. We have to find a central school for them to go to," Thornton said. "That was more than 30 years ago, and I will tell you, I am very, very proud to be a little part of this. What you have accomplished here today may be small, but overall what you do is so significant. You're like little miracle workers."

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