A recent upgrade to its lighting system provided Faribault Middle School with the unique opportunity to introduce cutting-edge LED color tunable lights to its special education classrooms.

Thanks to LED technology, teachers in the Faribault Middle School’s special education classrooms now have the ability to control their classrooms’ light intensity and a full spectrum of colors through an iPad application.

“For students with autism or with any emotional struggles, the lighting in a classroom can impact their sensory needs,” Faribault Middle School special education teacher Nikki Hagedorn said. “If you don’t meet those sensory needs, it is hard to meet those emotional needs and if you don’t meet those emotional needs you can’t reach the academics.”

The LED color tunable lights were installed just over a year ago by The Retrofit Cos, a local lighting and retrofit company based out of Owatonna and Little Canada. Lighting consultant Jake Andrist helped with the installation of the LED color tunable lights in the special education classrooms at both the middle and high schools.

“There were a few reasons for going with LED Color Tunable lights in the Special Ed classrooms at the Middle School and High School,” said the district’s Director of Buildings and Grounds/Health Safety, Kain Smith. “I’ve heard on a few different occasions how color-tuning lights in classrooms help student behavior and improve learning.

“Over the last couple years our Health & Safety Committee has seen many injury reports from staff in Special Ed classrooms and we’ve had many discussions on what could be done to help staff and students in those classrooms. When the opportunity presented itself to install the color-tuning lights during our LED upgrade project we jumped at the chance to see if it would help.”

From a teacher’s perspective, the chance to incorporate this type of technology into her classroom was warmly received by Hagedorn.

“I said, yes I would love to have them,” Hagedorn said about the offer to add the new lights. “Even just the dimming capabilities are nice and on top of that being able to change the colors can really be helpful.

“We often talk with our students about being aware of your emotions and how the world around you effects your emotions, so it (the color tunable lights) really connects with that … like how do you feel when the lights are blue or how do you feel when the lights are red, so we can make those connections and that they (the students) have some power to control that.”

The lights were installed over a year ago, but COVID limited students’ interaction with the lights due to distance learning and later hybrid learning situations in the classroom. This fall is really the first time that students have been able to fully experience the color-tunable lights on a regular basis in the classroom.

Hagedorn often experiments with colors and light levels throughout the week in order to provide the optimum atmosphere for her students.

“In general, blues and greens are calming colors, so a lot of the time I will lean toward that,” Hagedorn said. “I really find these lights are better than the florescent and the (white) LED lights. There have been studies to show that the florescent lights can impact their sensory needs and sensory issues can impact their behaviors.”

The ability to chose colors and room brightness is another factor that plays an important role in the success of these lights.

“At the middle school level, choice is always big, so the students like having a choice,” Hagedorn said. “Because this is a special education classroom, sometimes there is a stigma of coming to my room. But having these cool lights makes it like, ‘Ooh, they have the cool room because the lights are different.’ A lot of other teachers and students have commented that it is pretty cool.”

Hagedorn believes this type of choice offered to her students can also carry over to other aspects of their lives.

“There is an awareness of how things in their world can impact their emotions, and that awareness has improved,” Hagedorn said.

“Students will request ‘can we have the lights dim’ or ‘can we try a blue light today.’ Obviously, that would not have been an option before these lights, but now it connects that I can control the world around me and that control can sometimes make me feel better.”

The LED retrofit in the schools also provides a substantial cost savings over traditional florescent lights and in the long run pays for itself.

“The calculated energy savings will see our investment paid back in seven years,” Smith said. “Those calculations don’t include the labor we would’ve invested in repairs had we still had to replace ballasts and burnt out (florescent) bulbs every year. So it’s pretty safe to say we’d see a payback sooner than the predicted seven-year mark.”

Both Smith and Hagedorn said the trend for the use of the LED color-tunable lighting is something that could be of benefit to both special education and general education classrooms throughout the district.

“I absolutely see this trend continuing till all our buildings have completely switched over to LED lighting,” Smith said. “I’m not sure if color tuning in every classroom is feasible but it would be a very nice option to have considering the studies I’ve seen and the feedback we have gotten from our Special Education staff.”

Hagedorn added, “Even to be able to just dim the lights because florescent lights are so hard on the eyes, and there are also rooms without any windows, so being able to change the colors of the light would be nice.”

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