Oct. 10, 2013
By Tara Cavanaugh
The new playground at Haisley Elementary looks a little different from the other equipment outside. There’s special spongy flooring underneath the swings. An extra-long ramp leading up to a play structure. A teeter-totter that looks positively ergodynamic.
But the kids who use the playground can’t tell a difference at all. In fact, all they notice is how much fun they’re having.
The new playground is designed for Haisley’s special needs students. It allows the students to play outside as easily as their general education peers.
Haisley has the largest special needs population of all the AAPS elementary schools, with 21 students in three self-contained classrooms. Fourteen of those students use walkers or wheelchairs.
“It has been seen as an equity issue here at Haisley that our playgrounds were not accessible in the past,” said Principal Kathy Scarnecchia. “Our teachers and many families supported trying to accommodate students with a special swing or keeping the pavement smooth for wheelchairs.
“Our new structure now allows wheelchair users to be a part of the everyday play of their peers without having to leave their equipment or have assistance getting to it.”
The boat swing is the students’ favorite piece, said teacher Erika Cech. It allows students to roll up a ramp, put on their brakes, and feel the “boat” rocking back and forth as if it were out at sea.
“It’s hard for students in wheelchairs to feel any vestibular movement, which is that inner-ear kind of stuff. That’s what a lot of kids who like to swing really enjoy,” Cech said. “Before this we just had a couple of adaptive swings, which are great, but it’s also hard when you have ten kids and only three or four staff members to get everybody out of a wheelchair and onto a swing.
“So with this new playground, students can wheel a wheelchair up there, put on the brakes, and actually get that movement without the staff having to do a lot of lifting.”
Next to the structure with the boat swing is the ergodynamic-looking teeter-totter. Its sloped seats and arm rests allow students to slide in and stay on without fear of falling off. Similarly, a large red swing near the teeter-totter has two bucket seats for students. It looks a bit like a dinghy.
Another feature of the playground: green spongy flooring underneath a large adaptive swing and a tire swing that make a smoother surface for wheels than wood chips.
The flooring is officially called pored rubber surfacing. Unofficially it’s called by staff “that really comfy squishy flooring that I want in my kitchen.” The flooring is particularly expensive, so for now it’s only in a few places on the playground.
The adaptive playground cost a total of $60,000, and was paid for entirely by the AAPS sinking fund. One of the sinking fund’s specific uses is for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility upgrades. This school year, the sinking fund also paid for a new ramp to be built outside of Huron High School for students in wheelchairs.
It’s important that the sinking fund is able to cover the expense, said Principal Scarnecchia. “The Haisley PTO is very supportive of all the needs of our building, including funding field trips for all of the self-contained classes, but they could not afford the large playground structure,” she said. “The sinking fund allowed us as a community to make this playground our priority above all else that could have been added to our campus.”
The playground isn’t just used by special needs students. It’s also used by general education students, too.
“The general education kids are really interested in it, in part because it’s new, but also because it’s fun,” Cech said. “And it’s something our kids can play on at the same time. So I think one of the best things is that it’s really prompted more inclusion for our kids.”
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More on the AAPS News:
- Sinking fund FAQ
- Energy upgrades help district save money
- Creating a solid foundation for district operations: the sinking fund
- Superintendent’s Blog: Vote Yes Nov. 5