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A Playground For Everybody

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For most children at South Park Elementary in Tsawwassen, the playground’s jungle gym is a place to jump and swing around and relieve that pent up energy. But for Grade 5 student Nicola Schmidt, who makes use of a wheelchair, she could only sit and watch other children play.

“My wheelchair would get stuck in the woodchips surrounding the playground and there weren’t the proper grips to allow me to pull myself up onto the play structures,” she explains.

Her mom, Kim Klewchuk, says Nicola loves recess time and the chance to play games and explore the school grounds with her friends, but the playground was one area she couldn’t go.

“This is her community so I don’t think kids recognize, sometimes, that she’s in a wheelchair and she can’t go along wherever they go,” says Kim. “And they don’t do it deliberately but they run off and play and they forget.”

Nicola didn’t feel deliberately excluded but that didn’t change the fact she couldn’t play with her friends.

“I know there was some days last year that I came home and I was just not happy with how it went,” she recalls of her Grade 4 year.

So, Nicola decided to talk to her school principal, Elaine Greenhalgh, about her concerns regarding the playground.

“I just kind of came up to her and I was like, ‘I would like to make the playground more accessible because I’m missing out on this game that I really want to play.’”

The principal spoke with John Vantol, the school district’s manager of maintenance services, and he came out to the school to personally meet with Nicola to see what possible solutions there might be.

The plan included creating a paved pathway for her to access the playground, a bar at the slide and adding handles in several locations enabling Nicola to pull herself from her wheelchair and up onto the playground equipment.

“What they did was they incorporated her into that process, which is really unique,” says Kim. “They didn’t just plan something for her that wasn’t going to work or there’s a chance it couldn’t work. They actually said, ‘what do you need?’”

Kim was especially surprised given the funding challenges faced by most schools these days.

“You know, it’s just amazing that they were able to make it happen for her because it’s just made a world of difference,” adds Kim.

According to the school district, the additional parts for the playground were paid for by the special programs department and the installation costs were provided in-kind by the maintenance department.
The end result is a playground that Nicola can play on with her friends.

“It was kind of funny because the day it was done it wasn’t our time to play on the playground. So I was just kind of sad because I couldn’t play,” says Nicola, laughing. “But then the next day I got to play and it was really fun. It felt really good.”

Kim says it’s a huge first step toward making the rest of the playground accessible, not just for her child but for all the children with similar challenges who come after her.

“This is a playground for the community, not just for the school, so other people come here to play and now we have one more accessible playground in Tsawwassen and it makes it a much more livable community.”

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