Creslane ramping up for more ‘inclusive’ play

New equipment encourages interaction with classmates.

CRESWELL — In February, $50,000 worth of new playground equipment was unveiled at Creslane Elementary School – equipment purchased after two years of fundraising by the school’s PTO – and students with special needs were as enthusiastic as their peers.

“When we first got the new equipment, all the kids were so excited; they were so wanting to be out there,” said principal Amy Halley.

There was just one hitch: the space for the new structure was not large enough to accommodate a structure that would include features usable for students with limited mobility.

While Halley said no one has contacted Creslane with concerns about playground accessibility, school and district officials are being proactive: “We are always looking for opportunities to include all of our students,” Halley said.

The goal is not to give students with disabilities their own separate playground equipment and activities, but to provide opportunities for students of varying abilities to interact and play together, encouraging social engagement and a sense of connectedness with all of their peers.

“For a lot of Life Skills students (those with moderate to severe/profound physical and intellectual disabilities), having social opportunities and developing relationships with their peers is a big priority,” said Halley, who began her career as a special education teacher.

Since adding ADA-accessible permanent structures was both cost-prohibitive and – because of equipment clearance and “fall zone” requirements – space-prohibitive Creslane got creative: four picnic tables are being installed on the playground that have no bench on one side, so children in wheelchairs can pull right up to the table to eat and socialize with friends.

An adaptive swing has been purchased that will allow children unable to use an ordinary swing to enjoy the motion alongside their peers. It will replace one of the end swings on the playground’s current swing set. Joel Higdon, Creswell School District’s director of technology services and maintenance/facility operations and district safety officer, will add a ramp so students in wheelchairs can get from ground level to swing level.

“I’m still working on how to create the ramp,” he said.

Installation of two freestanding interactive games is also expected over spring break. In funnel ball, a stand supports a large fiberglass bucket with four holes for returning balls thrown into it; different stand heights allow children in wheelchairs to play as easily as standing children. A large, upright tic-tac-toe board will encourage interactive play among children of all abilities.

A parachute to be shared by all children for playing a variety of games is another possibility, Higdon said. Because the large, colorful parachute requires groups of children to work together, “it’s very welcoming,” he said.

Compared to larger structures, these standalone items are “relatively inexpensive,” Higdon noted, and so could be purchased through CSD’s Facilities Budget.

During the planning process, Creslane worked closely with CSD’s director of special services, Amy Aguero, and occupational and physical therapists contracted through the Lane Education Service District (Lane ESD).

“Most of our students who have physical disabilities are in our Life Skills program, which is supported by Lane ESD; Lane ESD supplies the program with equipment that appropriately matches the needs of students,” Halley said. “Because a lot of the kids have mobility issues and other very specific needs,” she added, the new equipment “needed to meet very, very specific goals.”

“There’s always a very thoughtful discussion about what is best for a student in need of some supports,” Aguero said. “We’re always wanting to find opportunities to include all students in activities.”

One such opportunity is an inclusive playground that is developmentally appropriate for children with and without disabilities – a place where all children can play together.

“It’s good for all students to see and interact with each other as much as possible,” Halley said.

Such a simple innovation as wheelchair-accessible picnic tables serves that goal in a very natural way. At schools where she has seen similar tables in use, “I see less of students sitting back and staring and more organic interaction,” Halley said.

Once the new equipment has been installed, Life Skills teacher Jen Davis will help her students get acquainted with it before using it with other students. Even then, Life Skills students “will have priority on the new equipment, and an EA will be there to help facilitate turn-taking and interactions,” Halley said.

Aguero said that about 20% of CSD students qualify for Special Education, with needs ranging from speech services and mild learning disabilities/delays to those typically served in the Life Skills classroom.

There are currently about 12 Life Skills students at Creslane, and about 12 at Creswell Middle School, Aguero said.

Because special needs vary so widely and the student population is always in flux, in developing Creslane’s inclusive playground, “we’re trying to buy things that will support future students as well as those we have now,” Halley said.

On the wish list: “There is a small space available in the existing bark ‘fall zone,’ so we’re looking into purchasing some kind of low-to-the-ground structure for climbing,” Halley said. 

“Hopefully we can be a positive example of how easily a school playground can include everybody.”



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