BY MARY NORKOL UPDATED DECEMBER 10, 2021 11:07 AM
Kids in and around North Myrtle Beach can now upgrade their playtime, thanks to a new center in North Myrtle Beach. STAR Academy, located at 647 Main Street in North Myrtle Beach, opened in mid-November. Standing for Sensory Teaching And Recreation, the academy is meant to provide a space for kids to safely play, interact with each other and even chill out. Part indoor playground, part crafts corner and part programming, co-owner Joanne Epstein-Wolk said the goal is to address kids’ sensory needs along with their social emotional needs. A former teacher and administrator in New York City Public Schools, Epstein-Wolk said most schools could improve their understanding of misbehaving and children’s needs in the classroom. “Kids don’t want to misbehave,” she said. “Kids want to be successful. Sometimes parents don’t understand that.”
Sensory needs have become more of a conversation among parents, teachers and psychologists. The need to touch and feel things, run, jump and move are common in kids, and if they’re restricted from doing so, that can get in the way of their overall success, Epstein-Wolk said. The center includes slides and ladders, a foam pit and swings, along with tables for kids to craft and play with toys. Classes for kids and families are also planned, including self-care for mothers and tips on reading and math for young children.
“A place like STAR Academy, kids can explore, we have a lot of different sensory tools and toys and equipment,” said co-owner Sarah Rodriguez-Smith. “We have staff who can point them to the kinds of input they need.” As the center gets off the ground, Epstein-Wolk said she’s already started to recognize regulars coming back several times. It’s the first of its kind in Horry County, she said, and parents notice its benefits.
Epstein-Wolk’s son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which causes people to over- or under-react to stimulation, and he was kicked out of preschools for misbehaving when he was young. She said people misunderstood his needs, and he didn’t have a place where he felt he belonged or was able to explore his sensory needs. “He’s been an example for me,” Epstein-Wolk said. “He doesn’t fit into the mold of other kids.” That’s when she began crafting the idea behind STAR Academy. The center came to fruition last month, combining efforts from Epstein-Wolk’s experience with kids, parents of kids with special needs and occupational therapists to figure out the best toys and stimulation to include.
Away from the shouts, giggles and shrieks of playing kids, the center also includes a tucked-away area for children to relax. It’s part of nurturing their social and emotional health and allowing them to rest. Inside the nook is a memorial for Niko Quintana, the son of a friend of Epstein-Wolk’s who died by suicide at age 16. Nicole Quintana, Niko’s mom and a special education teacher, said sensory processing disorder wasn’t commonly discussed when her son was growing up, but she suspects he could have been diagnosed. “Suicide happened to him, like a heart attack happens to people,” Quintana said. “I shared with Joanne, and she came to know him, and she creates this space. This is a safe haven for kids ... it’s throwing them a life jacket instead of a brick.” STAR Academy offers open play as well as various programs and classes. Rates and discounts can be found on its website.
STAR Academy opens in North Myrtle Beach STAR Academy, which stands for ‘Sensory Teaching and Recreation’ opened in mid-November in North Myrtle Beach, the first of its kind in Horry County to offer sensory education to kids and families. Dec. 8, 2021. JASON LEE JLEE@THESUNNEWS.COM This story was originally published December 10, 2021 8:15 AM.
About the Author: Mary Norkol covers housing and homelessness for The Sun News through Report for America, an initiative which bolsters local news coverage. She joined The Sun News in June 2020 after graduating from Loyola University Chicago. She was editor-in-chief of the Loyola Phoenix, leading the paper to first place in its general excellence category from the Illinois College Press Association. Norkol won awards in podcasting, multimedia reporting, in-depth reporting and feature reporting from the ICPA. While in college, she reported breaking news for the Daily Herald and interned at the Chicago Sun-Times and CBS Chicago.