New accessible school playgrounds are a 'natural extension of the inclusive world'
At least two suburban school systems have debuted inclusive playgrounds for the new academic season that are meant to be fun and accessible for children regardless of their physical abilities.
Countryside Elementary School in Barrington Hills this week unveiled its revamped playground geared for children ages 5 to 12. It includes a wheelchair-accessible swaying AeroGlider designed to encourage teamwork by kids of all ages and abilities.
In Palatine, Marion Jordan and Jane Addams elementary schools have remodeled playgrounds suitable for all children, including those with disabilities. One highlight is a sensory wall at Jane Addams for children with autism.
The fully accessible playgrounds at Palatine Township Elementary District 15 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 "are an exciting part" of an overall statewide trend of schools becoming more inclusive for children from all backgrounds, said Kevin Rubenstein, board president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education.
"Over the past several years, we have seen a significant uptick in the number of students with significant disabilities attending their neighborhood schools," said Rubenstein, director of student services, technology and assessment at Lake Bluff Elementary District 65.
"That's not only good for the students with disabilities, but there is evidence to suggest that typically developing students benefit as well. These playgrounds are a natural extension of the inclusive world that surrounds these students, and we should be seeing more of this as funds become available and as schools work together to make sure that students are educated together."
At Countryside, children couldn't get to the accessible playground fast enough after Monday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. Along with the AeroGlider, it has a handicapped-accessible merry-go-round, low zip line, sensory slides, a shaded picnic table and music area.
Zachary Koviak, 11, whose mother, Nicole, was involved in private fundraising for the playground project as Countryside PTO's president, was among the students enjoying the new equipment. He understood the greater meaning of the playground.
"It's important, because people who usually can't play because there are stairs or anything like that, now there are rails and they can play and experience a lot more fun than they could before," said Zachary, who donned a Countryside Project Playground T-shirt with the tagline "Let's Play Together!" and a drawing of two stick figures by a swing and another in the middle in a wheelchair.
Sarah Holcombe, communications and marketing manager for the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association, said Countryside's inclusive playground will benefit children in the agency's summer day camps at the school. The agency serves communities in McHenry County and parts of Cook, Lake and Kane counties.
District 15 officials said they have committed to replacing two playgrounds annually with equipment accessible to all students for roughly $300,000.
Similar to Countryside, the playgrounds at Marion Jordan and Jane Addams have the accessible merry-go-round, ramps, swings and more. Marion Jordan's PTA and other private donors provided contributions toward the project.
"District 15 feels play is not an extra, but an essential component of a student's education," Superintendent Laurie Heinz said. "We plan to invest in two playgrounds each year to ensure all kids have a wonderful, inclusive experience playing outdoors at our schools."