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Special Play Area Helps Children of All Ability Levels

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 8/14/2017

ATPE talks to Little Cypress Intermediate school nurse Kelly Meadows about Stay and Play, her school’s playground for special need students. The playground allows students of all ability levels to play together.

What is the Stay and Play Recreational Area?

Stay and Play is an all-inclusive, fully accessible playground that can be enjoyed by all children, regardless of their abilities.

The project was built in stages. The first stage resulted in creating a 40’ X 40’ fenced area and obtaining some portable sensory stimulating devices—toys. When we started this project, we dreamed of a place where children would be free to explore their environment and enjoy building relationships with their peers. We wanted them to discover on their own that they have more similarities than differences. Our specially selected playground components encourage children to be active.

The space was originally designed for a small group of students in the LifeSkills classroom. It has become a place where students from our general education classes play together with special needs students. The special needs students get exercise, play, and socialization, and our general education students learn about empathy, inclusion, and dignity—lessons that cannot be taught nearly as effectively in a traditional classroom setting.

What was the inspiration for this project?

The project began when we noticed that the students in our LifeSkills classroom, who represent a broad range of physical, developmental, neurological, and intellectual disabilities, were unable to play outside due to a lack of a safe, level space; appropriate equipment; or adequate fencing.

We identified a need that inspired a dream and eventually became a reality. Our campus consists of a beautiful building on a large tract of land. Most of our students are able to enjoy recess in the expansive fields surrounding the building.

Out of that need came a dream of enclosing a section of our property, filling it with inclusive playground equipment, and providing a place for our special needs students to play like everyone else. Our LifeSkills teacher, Rachel Choate, and I approached the Little Cypress Intermediate (LCI) principal at the time, Julia Dickerson, about this dream. As a result of our conversation, Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD donated the land and the maintenance department agreed to donate labor. We were informed that there was not money in the budget for a playground. So, I began writing grants, and we started making presentations in our community to gather support.

What is Stay and Play’s most popular feature and why?

We specially selected particular components to meet specific needs of our special needs students. The Cozy Cocoon appeals to children with autism, allowing them to retreat while observing everyone else, and at the same time it provides a place to sit and share a book with a friend. The Moonrock Climber and the Triumph Climber encourage the use of imagination and challenge students to reach for new heights. The Spin Cup is well-liked by many of the children, while others seem to enjoy playing the various drums. The Triple Shoot Out is a triangular-shaped post that has three goals set at different heights, which challenges students while also allowing them to be successful. At times, the handicap-accessible picnic table and the poured, rubberized surface are the most popular features depending on what portable equipment is out or what activities are taking place.

What changes have you seen in your students, staff, or community as a result of Stay and Play?

All our students enjoy playing with their peers. Lives have changed. A parent of a child that has both Down syndrome and autism said that we had opened a window for his child. For the first time, he saw his son engaged in play with other children and this gave his family hope. (Jacob loves the parachute and his family is now looking at getting one of their own to promote interaction at home.) The father of one of our general education students reported that his daughter has become much more patient with her younger siblings when they could not do things that came easy to her. After spending time with special needs students, some of our fourth- and fifth-grade students talk about becoming special education teachers or physical and occupational therapists.

Our primary target population for Stay and Play is the 300 students at LCI, nine of which are considered special need. Our secondary target is the adults in our area. We hope to encourage them to consider the special needs population when planning for the community and to promote acceptance of the unique qualities that these students have to offer. Our community has not only supported us financially through donations and grants, they have also shown a willingness to make changes to support special need students in the local parks, and have cited Stay and Play as their inspiration. A neighboring city is now taking the special needs population into consideration as they plan the construction and selection of equipment for their new park.

What are your future goals for this project?

Several of our special needs students do not tolerate the heat very well and others have difficulty with the exposure to the UV rays, so the amount of time they are able to enjoy outside is limited. If, however, we had a cover over Stay and Play that was high enough to allow wind to blow through while still providing shade and a barrier from the elements, we could utilize the playground more frequently and for longer periods of time.

We also hope to add a security camera that could be integrated into the school’s system, and we want to install signs to recognize our donors, sponsors, grants, memorials, and honorariums.

We hope Stay and Play inspires others to accomplish what we have.

What advice would you give to schools that are considering implementing something similar?

Talk to people about your idea and keep talking. It is helpful to have a broad base of supporters, both in the community and in the school district, who are interested in your proposal. A project like this does not appeal to everyone, but if you are fortunate enough to identify some who are passionate about seeing it become a reality, then you have taken the first key step.

And contact us at Little Cypress Intermediate! We will be happy to share with you what we have learned and how we were able to build a life-changing, all-inclusive, fully handicap-accessible playground at our school—without it ever being part of the school or district’s budget and with limited fundraising—in just four years.

Where can readers get more information on Stay and Play?

Check out our website at http://lcistayandplay.weebly.com.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at www.facebook.com/lcistayandplay and http://twitter.com/LCIStayPlay.

To make an appointment to come and see Stay and Play or to learn more about it, contact Kelly Meadows at kmeadows@lcmcisd.org.

Kelly Meadows is the Little Cypress Intermediate school nurse, the LCM Director of Health Services, and the Project Coordinator for Stay and Play Recreational Area. Kelly graduated from Orangefield ISD and Lamar University’s BSN program before discovering her passion for school health. She has been able to combine her love of education, inspired by her father Robert Montagne, retired superintendent of Orangefield, and the love for nursing shown by her mom, Lynda Montagne, retired recovery room supervisor, into a career of more than 23 years in school health (including one year as a classroom teacher). She is happily married to Ben Meadows, her supportive husband of 31 years.

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