Fully inclusive playground a big hit with students

Change, it’s been said, is the only thing on which we can truly depend. Sometimes things go south, but more often they get better.

One small step toward the light was achieved this month when students at Claremont’s Sumner Danbury Elementary School got access to their brand new, fully inclusive playground.

“It’s been really wonderful to watch, to be out on the playground and have so many more of our students with mobility support to be able to access it,” said third year Sumner Danbury Principal Brenda Hamlett.

In addition to a massive, and inclusive, play structure, additions to the playground include more soft surface and more room for students to get around, she said. Also, there are two ramps students can access if they are in wheelchairs.

Sumner Danbury is home to more than 500 students, about 60 of whom with orthopedic and/or other health impairments.

According to the school’s website, students thrive in the diverse environment because there are clear expectations for academics and behavior, “that emphasize the value of learning and the importance of treating others with respect and dignity.”

Sumner-Danbury has also seen the installation of two new wings of nine classrooms, funded through Measure G, “which are amazing,” Ms. Hamlett said.

Construction of the new playground and classrooms did mean the school’s two former playgrounds—one for differently-abled students and another standard area—were shut down for a year.

“But the kids were great,” Ms. Hamlett said. “They made it through, so now it’s just so nice to have a play structure for them.”

The new playground is a nod to where play—and to a certain degree society as a whole—is going: toward a more inclusive model.

“Inclusive play benefits all children, regardless of ability,” wrote Sruthi Atmakur as part of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children study. “By giving children with and without disabilities a chance to play together, inclusive play spaces can serve as joyful incubators of a more inclusive society, in which children with disabilities can participate equally and enjoy equal opportunities to flourish.”

Sumner Danbury students were thrilled when the playground opened Tuesday, September 3.

“There was so, so much excitement,” Ms. Hamlett said. “We had hoped it would be open by the first day of school. It was really close. So, it was all bated breaths while they were watching all the final touches being completed.”

When students and staff returned after Labor Day, she said classes came out by grade level, and they held demonstrations on some of the new apparatus and went over the structure and rules together.

“Then, at recess time it was just amazing. It was wonderful,”?she said. “The kids were so excited. It’s been great.”

The most popular feature of the new playground is “the glider.” It has room for 10 people inside, with a long bench, a shorter bench, and an opening for a wheelchair or for kids to stand. There are platforms on the outside of it so that students can rock it from there as well.

“It’s for all of our friends—no matter what mobility supports they have, whatever their abilities are—it can accommodate students in wheelchairs, students with walkers, even students that have adults for a little support. Everybody can get on it together,” Ms. Hamlett said. “It’s just fantastic.”

Ms. Hamlett said the playground project was a huge team effort.

“Since the moment we knew that we were going to lose our old play structure and get a new one, our staff has been committed to making sure we planned a playground that would be inclusive to students of all physical abilities,” she said.

With each proposal, she said staff looked closely at the structure and surface.

“We’d say, ‘Is this going to meet our dream of having a playground where all students can participate together?’ Along the road we made some changes to some of the proposals the company had made, and thankfully the district backed us all the way,”?she said. “When we said we really wanted this glider, the district was like, ‘Okay, I think we can try to make that happen.’ Like I said, it was really a team effort.”

Playground construction began in July. The roughly $180,000 cost was covered by 2019-2020 Recreation Assessment District funds. The RAD is a $88.10 assessment included in Claremont homeowners’ property tax bills. It is earmarked for upkeep and improvements at school site outdoor facilities, so that they may function like parks and be available to the public during non-school hours.

The assessment rate has remained the same for about 20 years, according to CUSD Assistant Superintendent Lisa Shoemaker.

Ms. Shoemaker said CUSD’s next two playground renovations, which will also be funded by the RAD assessment, will take place over the next couple of years at Condit and Vista Del Valle.

The majority of RAD money is used for school site playground maintenance, including watering, mowing and other upkeep. What’s left over at the end of each fiscal year after these expenses is allocated for playground improvements.

“When all of that is said and done—especially since we haven’t increased it in 20 years—there’s only a couple hundred thousand left over at the end of the year to pay for upgrades,” Ms. Shoemaker said. “We kind of just have to do it over time. The Sumner Danbury structure essentially ate up all the 2019-2020 RAD.”

Vista and Condit won’t be ready for playground renovations until Measure G projects currently underway at those campuses are completed sometime in January.

“So next summer, when we have a new RAD we will have some funds to replace their playgrounds,” Ms. Shoemaker said.

For now, Sumner-Danbury students of all abilities are preparing for a schoolwide ribbon cutting ceremony that will take place at 8:05 a.m. next Wednesday, September 25.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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