Joey Madden knows firsthand what it's like to be a frustrated student, and he wanted to do something to make learning easier for the young kids at his former elementary school than it was for him.
For his Eagle Scout project, the rising junior at Woodland High School created a sensory hallway at Adairsville Elementary to help all students, especially those with ADD/ADHD and special needs, who struggle with attention issues or just need a moment to calm down during a bad day.
"My mom and I came across this video of a sensory path at an elementary school in Marietta on Facebook," said the son of Seth and Dianne Madden of Euharlee. "When the video was done, I said to my mom, 'Wow! If there was something like that when I was in school, maybe that would’ve helped me.' You see kids with ADD/ADHD often get labeled as trouble kids. They seem to always find themselves in trouble as well. In reality, we’re frustrated because we know things and know how to do them; we just struggle finding the right words or the 'appropriate' way to express ourselves. Unfortunately, this all too often gets misinterpreted in a negative way, which, in turn, can lead to a negative attitude towards school and teachers.
"As you can tell, I know this from personal experience. The teachers and staff at Adairsville Elementary were very patient, open-minded and progressive at the time with ways to help me be a better me. I wanted to be able to share with the teachers another means of helping their kids to be the best they can be, another positive outlet for the students. If a child is struggling because they're having a bad day or moment, instead of sending them to the hallway or office, they can both take a deep breath and go to the sensory path to re-center themselves first. If this path helps just one student not have to go through the things that I went through, then I feel my project was successful."
A sensory hallway or path is an area created to stimulate the senses through a series of different movements, according to Madden, 17.
"For kids with ADHD, it’s a way for them to release extra energy and get refocused," he said. "The idea is once they’ve done the path once or twice, the kids should be able to focus long enough to complete whatever tasks the teachers are asking of them."
The best part about a sensory path is “you can create it to meet your personal needs," Madden said.
"When I was creating the design for the path, I kept in mind the space I was using and the kids that would be using it,” he said. “There’s hopscotch, a tiger crawl, heel to toe, balance lines, elephant stomp, wall tracing and pushing on the walls and much more. I incorporated 'fly like Falcon No. 44' for former AES student Vic Beasley. I know he does a lot for the school and community. I wanted to give him a shoutout."
Madden, who joined Cub Scouts in March 2009 as a second-grader, said he and his mom found a news clip on Facebook about a sensory path at Cheatham Hill Elementary in Marietta about a year ago, and once he saw it, he “just knew I needed to do this as my Eagle project.”
“It just hit me personal,” he said. “I went to CHES and interviewed the teachers that created their school’s path. Interestingly enough, they had a mom of a child with ADHD that asked them if they could create this in their school to help her child and others.”
After coming up with a design, Madden discussed the project with his former principal, Melissa Zarefoss, on Jan. 22, and she was “very excited,” he said.
“She said she had goosebumps just listening to my proposal and was honored that I thought of her and AES to do my project,” he said.
“Joey put a lot of time and thought into this project, and by the time he came to me, he had a plan,” Zarefoss said. “Based on his early years in school and a better understanding of how some students learn, Joey felt this project was perfect for our Adairsville students.”
Every school would “benefit from a sensory hallway,” the principal said.
“They are designed to be a proactive approach to improve student focus and decrease disruptive behaviors from occurring within a classroom,” she said. “The hallway is described as a way for students to ‘unplug from the information overload in class’ and an alternate to ‘getting the wiggles out.’”
Madden obtained all the vinyl cutouts he needed for the pathway from his aunt, Ann Deavers of Dallas, and recruited a crew that included his parents; his brother, Alex, who just earned his Eagle rank in February; and Alex’s girlfriend, Rylee Leachman, to help him turn AES’s blue hallway, where the special education classes are located, into a sensory path that featured activities on the floor and walls.
“At one end, we used different textures to make a flower, pompoms and tiger fur,” he said, noting the project was completed June 8-12. “We used a long extension cord to help with layout of the ‘fly dots.’”
While the pathway was created on the blue hall, it “isn’t meant for just special education students,” Madden said.
“Every child can benefit from this path,” he said. “I hope they do for many years to come. I’m hoping it will help other kids have a positive way to get refocused so they can do better in school.”
Zarefoss said her teachers are “excited about this new addition to blue hall.”
“We sent pictures out since it was completed while we've been out of school, and teachers shared their enthusiasm about having a sensory hallway at AES,” she said.
Madden said the path is “absolutely” ready to be used on the first day of school in August.
“I’m excited to hear what the kids think,” he said. “I’m really proud of my project.”
Zarefoss said she, too, is “so proud of Joey and his accomplishments.”
“Joey and his family are part of my Georgia ‘roots,’ and seeing the time, energy and dedication Joey put into the project is both personally and professionally rewarding,” she said.
Completing his service project has Madden, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church’s Troop 15 led by Scoutmaster Todd Parker, one step closer to acquiring his Eagle Scout rank, which he wants to earn for “a few reasons.”
“Earning the Eagle rank is hard work,” he said. “It takes a lot of dedication. Not everyone earns the rank for one reason or another. I think when people hear you say you’re an Eagle Scout, they look at you differently. I’m hoping over the next few years, it will help me with college and job opportunities.”
But he also has a very personal reason for attaining the rank.
“My dad was a Boy Scout,” he said. “I want to make him proud.”