Flowery Elementary School students travel the galaxy with new virtual reality headsets

Trust us, you’ll want to hang out in the Incredible No-Shhhh Library.|

This is part of a series that examines how grants from the Sonoma Valley Educational Foundation help students flourish.

Flowery Elementary School students suddenly are finding themselves touring Athens, riding on a gondola in Venice, navigating through Zion National Park in Utah.

They are using the school’s new virtual reality headsets, thanks mainly to a $1,000 grant that Sara Hubbard-Lake, the school’s library media specialist, received for 2022-23 through the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s Classroom Grants program.

“Our students are smart and curious,” Hubbard-Lake wrote when applying for the grant. “They are little mathematicians and scientists, artists and writers. Many of our students live their lives within a few-blocks radius. They might visit family in another town or take a trip to the city, but they don’t have many opportunities to explore beyond the city limits of our own little town.

She added, “Virtual reality has some amazing educational platforms that allow students to take a trip around the world, into space or even back in time.”

The headsets currently are available to fourth- and fifth-grade students, but parents of younger students who would like the opportunity to use a headset can reach out to Hubbard-Lake.

Fifth-grader Tallulah Carroll says she was the first student to use one of the headsets.

“I was really excited doing it; I’ve always wanted to do VR,” she said. “I did the learning steps in a volleyball game — I like punching things in the air. I also danced with a robot!”

Luke Smith-Luciano, a fourth-grader, enjoys the various games that he plays.

“I like ‘Titans in Space’,” he said. “You’re in a space shuttle and you’re trying to control it. There also an underwater game where you learn about different species of underwater creatures. In the space game, you learn how to control a space shuttle and learn about space. The games are fun, and they help you to learn.”

Meanwhile, Flowery students are enjoying another one of Hubbard-Lake’s recent Classroom Grant projects in the school library.

Libraries aren’t known to be the liveliest places in the world, but Flowery students often rush to the door of the school library during recess, eager to see what is happening inside.

That’s because during recess, the library is transformed into the Incredible No-Shhh Library, offering an array of games and other activities that encourage conversation.

“By providing mindfulness tools for morning meditation, sensory toys for a calming corner, giant games to play at recess, sets for our ongoing recess chess games, stationary peddlers for a Ride & Read station and supplies for an arts and crafts corner, this library will become a creative learning center where students can engage both their minds and their bodies,” Hubbard-Lake wrote when applying for the grant.

She cherishes the quiet, peaceful sanctuary that traditional libraries provide, and appreciates that they offer an ideal place for students to learn and immerse themselves in a good book. Hubbard-Lake notes that many schools are moving away from the idea that libraries need to be silent, sedentary places for learning, though.

“School libraries are evolving into bustling, vibrant centers of knowledge that engage the whole child,” she wrote. “This library will continue to provide a quiet escape for our voracious readers, but it is my hope that it can evolve into a place that can impact a student’s day in a positive and meaningful way both in and out of the library.

“Studies show that mindfulness can reduce anxiety and movement can lead children to become more alert. When their bodies are calm and their minds are focused, students simply learn better.”

The Incredible No-Shhh Library, which is available to all Flowery students, was made possible partly through a $1,000 Classroom Grant that Hubbard-Lake received during the 2021-22 academic year from the education foundation. Teachers and school staff are allowed to apply for one grant of up to $1,000 per year.

“With the supplies provided by this grant, the library will be a supportive place that engages the whole child through games, mindfulness and sensory toys, art and craft supplies, and more,” said Gail Chadwin, the foundation’s director of development.

Students can visit the Incredible No-Shhh Library only during recess, while the library’s calming corner is available throughout the school day for any student who needs space for a break outside the classroom.

Hubbard-Lake says that students love the library’s many options, which include not only an area for quiet reading, but also the Listening Lounge, Sign Language Club, Adventures in Bookland, Game Time and a yoga space.

Emery Gybsers, a fifth-grade student, likes to play games during recess.

“I like game that you play to get smart … chess, checkers, those types of games,” Emery said. “I like them because I like to think about my moves and what I’m going to play. I feel like I can’t really play outside because it’s really noisy.

Luke enjoys coming to the library at recess to use a VR headset and play Jenga in a calm environment.

“It’s quieter there,” he said. “You don’t have people screaming.”

Chadwin praises Hubbard-Lake’s creativity and resourcefulness.

“I’ve noticed that she is one of a handful of teachers who always has a project posted on Donors Choose, which collectively brings a wide variety of resources to the Flowery library. I really admire the way she thinks outside the box to bring engaging opportunities to her students.”

To learn more about the Donors Choose program, where donors can support the classroom application that speaks to them, visit svgreatschools.org.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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