Six-year-old Paige Collins loves everything about coming to school, but she especially loves seeing her friends every day. Paige can often be seen in the hallways, classrooms, and cafeteria at McConnell Elementary School surrounded by her friends, who think she is “funny, sweet, smart, and cool.” But when she goes to recess with her class, everything changes. “I can’t play, so I just watch,” she says. Paige has a physical disability and is not able to access the playground equipment at McConnell, most of which is out of date, broken beyond repair, and does not meet current safety standards. “We usually just walk around or play ball,” one student says, “because a lot of the stuff is broken anyway.”
Children who learn together learn to live together. McConnell Elementary School has always been dedicated to celebrating the similarities and differences that make us a community. This year, the school is undertaking a project that will allow it to take curriculum outside the walls and create inclusive opportunities for social and academic development in children of all abilities. McConnell is partnering with Playcore to build an inclusive playground that will allow children of all abilities to learn and play together in a fully accessible and developmentally appropriate play space.
“Playcore is a leader in creating universally designed play environments that increase the 'playability' for people of diverse abilities, age, race, gender, ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic status. Designing inclusive play environments that meet the seven Principles of Inclusive Playground Design is a critical first step in providing the foundation for inclusive play to occur. Taking inclusive play to the next level by educating children about similarities and differences supports character education initiatives while further ensuring meaningful play for children of all abilities outdoors.” (Playcore.com)
“Inclusive playgrounds make a fundamental statement about a community’s social values and belief in every child’s right to play. They provide active and meaningful experiences that recognize the strengths, individuality, dignity, and abilities of people of all ages and abilities. Inclusive playgrounds encourage equal play opportunities, full participation in play, and promote independence. The social and physical inclusion of caregivers who have disabilities is also addressed when these individuals can supervise & participate in play." (Casey, 2005. Inclusive Play)
Research shows that providing inclusive play opportunities for children of all abilities supports social skills, healthy physical development, and academic skills. These opportunities allow teachers to teach to the whole child by promoting physical, sensory, cognitive, social, and communication development.
But this project is more than building a playground. It’s even more than building a playground for students with disabilities. It is about growing a culture of acceptance and inclusion of every child as a part of the community of learners. It is about the opportunity to teach all of our children the value of every individual. McConnell’s future leaders, the future leaders of the community, will learn that people of all abilities have interests, abilities and challenges. They will learn that people are more alike than different, and that all kids like to play and have fun, that all kids can learn, they just may do it differently.
This project is about taking curriculum outside our walls to create exciting and enriching learning opportunities for all kinds of learners. School officials are excited about the opportunity to give all of the students a fun and developmentally appropriate play space where every member of the community can play, learn and grow together.
The Hixson community has already shown McConnell Elementary School a tremendous amount of support through monetary contributions, donated time from construction companies, contractors, and volunteer grant writers. McConnell has secured approximately $48,000 of the roughly $91,000 cost with the help of Playcore, volunteer committee members, the Public Education Foundation, individual donations from parents and community members, PMI Chattanooga, the Lakesite community, the Hixson Kiwanis Club, The Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Hamilton County Commissioner Marty Haynes, District 3 School Board representative Dr. Greg Martin, and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.
For anyone interested in helping build the playground, there are many ways to help. Make a donation to McConnell Elementary School’s playground fund. Buy a commemorative brick for the walkway to the playground in honor of a current or past McConnell student or a loved one. Sign up to volunteer with the community build.
Officials said, "Let us know if you have talents to share that could help with the project. Contact Amy Thomson at email@example.com for more information on how you can help McConnell build an inclusive playground for children of all abilities that becomes a destination play environment for the community."