BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — After more than a year of planning and installation, new inclusive playground equipment at three Maumee schools is ready for use.
In March 2021, the schools announced the installation of accessible playgrounds at Fort Miami, Fairfield and Wayne Trail elementary schools. All three of the playgrounds now have areas that are accessible via wheelchair.
The process, which the district had hoped to complete last fall, took longer than expected due to delays and installation requirements.
The rubber material for the equipment’s ground base, for example, required specific weather conditions for installation.
“It was longer than we expected, first to get everything in, then the actual rubber material that goes on the ground can only be installed at certain temperatures. The weather is not always kind,” said MCS Director of Educational Services Tricia Samuels.
The students were finally able to take advantage of the new equipment last month and have been enjoying it ever since. According to Samuels, it’s rare to see the playgrounds empty even when school is out, as families from the neighborhoods stop by to make use of it, too.
The school wanted to find equipment that would be played on by the children during school hours and used by the neighborhood families in the evenings and on weekends, Samuels said, so the selection process for the equipment required a lot of thought.
“We wanted to find pieces that looked fun that looked like any kid might want to play on so we could encourage the ability for them to interact,” Samuels said. “We did get a couple of swings that are specifically for students who need more support, but we were very specific – we wanted them placed with all the rest of the swings. We didn’t want separate swings.”
There are some pieces of equipment on playgrounds that get played with more than others, and Samuels said the schools wanted to ensure the equipment selected would be liked by all students and would encourage interactions among the children.
Those interactions are vital to creating a strong community in and out of the school and for maintaining a more equitable balance among the students, Samuels said.
“When you look at our strategic plan, the overarching theme is equity, and we want to allow equitable access to our playground,” she explained. “That’s always our focus. How can we be the most inclusive district? We are always looking at what opportunities they have to make sure all students can be included.”
It’s a privilege, Samuels noted, to have had a supportive community and school district that is willing to go above the required minimum for students. It’s also been possible because of the JLW grantor.
The equipment was funded by a private JLW grant for $40,110 and $77,780 from the district’s Permanent Improve-ment Fund, for a total of $117,890. The cost allocated to each school was different, as the amount of rubber surface required for the playground and equipment selected varied.
Samuels said the district had contacted the grantor, who expressed interest in supporting inclusive playground equipment, and the rest of the staff at the school was eager to make it happen.
“It’s been wonderful to have that type of support in our community,” Samuels said. “I’m just really excited that we were able to do something like this and all of our kids can access our playground.”