Students at Santa Fe Elementary School may soon have an inclusive playground children can use regardless of their abilities.
The school’s Parent Teacher Association is hosting a dinner fundraiser at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Cleburne Conference Center to raise money for playground equipment. The event includes a four-course dinner prepared by celebrity chef, Mike Newton, who won season eight of MasterChef, with each course paired with a beer made by Grant Wood of Revolver Brewing Co.
The school’s playground is pretty basic right now, Santa Fe teacher Amy Easter said.
“We have two students on our campus that are wheelchair bound,” Easter said. “We have life skills on our campus, which are the students with cognitive disabilities like down syndrome, things like that. So what we’re trying to do is build an inclusive playground that incorporates a lot of natural elements.”
The goal is to make the equipment more physically accessible, she said, and to help their cognitive abilities.
This has been an ongoing project for the PTA, President Sarari Malone said, for the past three to four years.
“Traditionally, school districts assume responsibility for providing a basic play structure for a school when it is built, and they will maintain the structures throughout the years, but principals do not have a lot of room in their budgets to purchase anything else to add to or enhance the play area,” Malone said. “This is why I feel this is an important project for our PTA.”
They will complete the project in two stages, she said.
“Right now, we are working on creating a play space for our younger children,” she said. “Once this build is complete, we will continue to raise funds to buy equipment for our older students.”
We know that play helps children develop in many ways — strength, coordination, problem solving and social skills, she said.
“All of our children deserve to have this experience, but right now we do not have any wheelchair accessible playground equipment at Santa Fe,” she said. “This is what we want for all our children — the opportunity to grow in strength, intelligence and spirit. Our goal this year is to create a beautiful, natural playground for our children to enjoy, but we need your help to make this vision a reality.”
With some children having mobility issues, she said there is not much for them to do during recess.
“Currently they bring a few toys from home and play quietly with a few friends under the awning,” she said. “This playground will improve their physical and emotional well-being by allowing them to explore the world around them in a safe and fun manner.
“It will allow them to create and explore with their imagination which, unfortunately, is not as common as it used to be for children. We recently showed some of the kids a model of what we are trying to build, and they were very excited that one of their classmates will get to join in with them.”
Their goal is to raise $50,000 for the inclusive playground, she said.
“I know that sounds like a lot, but playground equipment is incredibly expensive,” she said. “This is why we have decided to create a more ‘natural’ playground and limit the structures we buy to five pieces of equipment.”
The school’s playground committee selected equipment to address all aspects of physical play, including spinning, sliding, hanging, jumping and digging, she said.
“The rest of the playground will consist of earthen hills for running, wide concrete paths to roll on, pipes for crawling, sensory activities such as sand boxes and water tables and building materials such as blocks and pool noodles,” she said. “One of our volunteers has even made a giant wind chime that the children can run or roll through for a fun sensory experience. Our goal is a playground that all of our children will enjoy, no matter what their physical or cognitive abilities might be.”
Santa Fe Principal Sabina Landeros said she is honored to be a principal in a community that cares about their students at the campus, including former special education teacher Susan Wood, who has helped lead the project.
“She has met with architects, engineers and construction companies,” Landeros said. “She has made calls to area businesses and city organizations. She has constructed a detailed plan for the playground, acquired quotes and even built a model. She has been instrumental in developing ideas to help raise the funds necessary to make our inclusive natural playground a reality.”
Research has shown if students receive a stimulating break from class, they are more productive when they return to class, she said.
“Constructing an accessible play environment will allow our children to create and explore a world they can master,” she said. “As they become more proficient, they also become more confident and ready to face new challenges.
“At Santa Fe Elementary School we do ‘whatever it takes’ to prepare our students to be academically, socially and emotionally equipped to lead us into the future. Our next step toward this goal is this playground.”
The dinner fundraiser is just one way of raising money to build the playground, she said.
“We have all heard the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” she said. “Cleburne is our ‘village,’ and we are asking our community to support us in this endeavor by buying tickets to or contributing to our PTA playground fund.”
Tickets are $100 each, with the deadline to purchase them at noon on Monday. All the money raised at the fundraiser will go towards the playground.
For more information or to make a donation, email Wood at email@example.com or call the school at 817-202-2300.