Tamara Reed will never forget what she saw when she recently picked up her fourth-grade son Mack from aftercare at Westchester Elementary School.
Mack was sitting on the playground’s new Omni Spinner. His head was tilted back and he had the “biggest smile in the world” on his face as a peer pushed the spinner.
“Usually when I see Mack, he’s on the sidelines watching other kids play,” Reed said. “When I saw him that day he was enjoying the experience of playing with other kids, not watching them.”
Mack was born with Spina bifida, a spinal cord defect that often causes partial paralysis of the legs. Mack uses a walker with leg braces or a wheelchair.
The Omni Spinner is part of Westchester Elementary's new playground that opened to students last month. The inclusive play environment is the realization of a grassroots effort called Project Playground that began a year ago.
The movement for more inclusive play equipment and resurfacing of the school's old playground began when the then third-grade class saw that Mack and other students were limited in using the old playground. The class started a fundraising effort to transform the playground into a space that all current and future students could enjoy.
“The kids were so excited about it,” Reed said. “They realized it would not only affect current students but all those who would come behind them.”
Donations for the effort came from the school’s PTO, Westchester Elementary School Principal Chris Clay and the Kirkwood School District Foundation, Greentree Community Church and McAlister’s Deli. The Kirkwood School Board approved $60,000 for the project that comes with a total price tag of about $120,000.
Students and parents also supported the cause. Students set up lemonade stands and donated birthday money and parents held garage sales to raise funds.
“The third-grade classroom really got behind us, teachers got behind us. It almost became a third grade initiative. It was really a group effort, through parents, children and the administration who really looked into making a difference,” Reed said.
To ensure that the money for Project Playground was well spent, the occupational therapist at Westchester, Shannon Wilson, spent time examining equipment to make sure all students would be able to use it.
In addition to the Omni Spinner, the new resurfaced playground includes a disc swing, adjustable basketball hoop and musical instruments.
The Westchester Elementary PTO is hosting a Project Playground celebration Tuesday. Click here for event details.
Project Playground still needs funding. The Kirkwood School District has paid for the completion of the project, however money is needed to reimburse the District for a significant portion of expenses associated with the project.
Donations can be sent to Westchester Elementary School in care of Project Playground.