CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Jefferson County Schools (JCS) is again hosting a special event to bring holiday cheer to neurodiverse students and their families. The second annual Sensory Santa event allows sensory-sensitive children to participate in the time-honored holiday tradition of visiting Santa Claus in a calm, less-chaotic environment, according to Haley Kern, PERC (parent and educator resource coordinator) for JCS.
"The holidays are a special time for our children and families, but they can be overwhelming for children with sensory sensitivity," said Kern. "Sensory Santa offers a low-key atmosphere without the hustle and bustle of the regular holiday season."
Developed by the JCS Special Programs Department, the event allows families to visit with Santa individually during reserved time slots without waiting in line or feeling rushed. Families have half-hour time slots to visit Santa in a safe space at the JCS central office that has been decorated and equipped with sensory-friendly lighting and music. A hot cocoa bar and dietary and sensory-friendly snacks and gift bags for students complete the holiday-themed ambiance.
Tara Edwards, mother of Driswood Elementary School 2nd grade student Ethan Edwards, said she loves the event.
“It's much less anxious for him and less stressful for us too. He's really gotten into Santa in the last couple of years, so this gives [Ethan] a way to see him without the crowds and the lines and wait times. It's perfect."
Volunteers from Jefferson and Washington High Schools are collaborating with JCS staff to greet each family at the door and help guide them through the experience.
JCS first offered Sensory Santa in 2021, with 17 families in attendance. This year, Kern said 21 families have signed up to attend. To meet the increased interest the event is being extended over three days this year, continuing on December 10 and 12.
Kern said she was grateful for all the staff and student volunteers helping make the event possible.
“We appreciate the assistance of everyone who expressed a desire to work with children with special needs so that Sensory Santa can be a joyful experience for our students and their families."