Park School Has a Playground its Students Can’t Use
Not a playground for kids using wheelchairs
Published in ChicagoNow, September 28, 2016
Have you ever tried pushing a twenty-five-pound child in a stroller through sand? It’s comparable to pushing a ten-year-old in a wheelchair through a playground with a wood chip surface. You’d better be really strong.
This is just one of the challenges the playground of Park School presents for staff trying to get students outside for some recess time. Park is part of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 school system. It serves sixty students, ages 3 to 22, who need a self-contained educational facility for reasons of safety, health, and/or the need for an intensive therapeutic environment. Among its population are students with significant physical impairments who need a playground that is handicap accessible.
The wooden structure currently on the playground has a bumpy, log-type surface that would challenge an able-bodied person. Now imagine a child with mobility issues trying to transverse this surface safely:
No way students with mobility challenges can cross this bridge
At one time, there were swings on this structure. But they had to be removed because the structure wasn’t strong enough to support them. So now this is what is available for students who want to swing:
Unsafe for use with handicap swings, which were removed
Iden Nowlin, teacher of preschoolers and deaf/hearing-impaired students at Park School, explained that it would cost the school district $80,000 for playground renovations that would include adding two new swinging structures and a poured-in-place, safe ground surface. Although the Park School staff and community have been talking to the school district about these issues for five years, she understands that there is no money available for renovations.
Excludes students with physical limitations
Because of the school budget crisis in Illinois and Evanston, funding renovations to make the playground usable for the students it serves is impossible right now. Park’s playground is not even on the district’s capital improvements list. Thus, it is up to this small school to try to raise the $80,000 itself.
The school district will provide help in clearing the current playground to get it ready for a renovation, and will provide manpower to help install the equipment, but that is all it can offer at this time. According to Nowlin, “Our PTA is small and mighty, but our families are already burdened with the high cost of adaptive equipment, medical and therapy bills, which leaves little left to support such a huge endeavor.”
The Park School community has written grants, reached out to other schools, and held fundraisers. They have even talked to the City of Evanston requesting its help since community members use the playground after hours. Thus far, the funds needed for this renovation remain elusive.
The beautiful new mural created by the Park School community features a child in a wheelchair flying a kite. It would be wonderful if this activity could actually happen on the school’s playground.
Today is Good Neighbor Day, so I am reaching out, readers. Schools are the anchors of our neighborhoods. If anyone has an idea of how to obtain funding for this worthy school project, please let me know.