School goes outside to learn on insidePublished 2:44pm Monday, March 18, 2013
A multi-year project is finally done at Lakeview Elementary School. It now has a playground specifically for students with special needs.
“One of the dreams of a parent is that their kids can experience the same experiences as other kids,” said Lakeview Elementary School Principal Eric Hudspith.
Four years ago, the school had nothing for a special needs playground except what amounted to a backyard play set. A used one at that. And by the time kids reached third grade, they were too big for it. Playing on the main playground only produces anxiety, because mainstream students at times fail to interact well with special needs students.
A school kicked off a campaign to do better.
In 2010, the school installed swings. In 2011, it installed a balance beam and a slide with a climbing wall. And just last summer, the school put in a stationary race car that wobbles on a spring and installed foam tile underneath much of the playground for extra safety in the event of falls.
All in all, the playground takes up about 1,600 square feet on the north side of the school, with a prime view of Fountain Lake.
The price tag was about $20,000. All of it but 5 percent came from donors, with real estate broker Ken Leland being the major donor.
Stacie Stensrud, a teacher for the Success Room at Lakeview, said the teachers use it for learning, like if a new environment is needed for a lesson or when they want to try physical education class outdoors. Playgrounds are important for schools because all children need to develop motor skills, and she said they allow them to socialize in different settings than the classroom. In short, getting kids outside can help them be ready to learn inside.
There are two classrooms at Lakeview for special-needs students. One is the Success Room, and it is for students with autism. The other is the Options Room, and it is for students with behavioral or developmental disorders.
The parent-teacher organization for Halverson Elementary School would like to make the 30-year-old playground more accessible to all students, especially those with special needs. The parent-teacher organization teamed up with the district and the Special Education Advisory Council to design a playground that can be used by a wide range of students, including those in wheelchairs.
Presently, the organization, called SPIRIT, is raising funds. The group hopes the playground attracts families to Albert Lea after it is built. They said the nearest playground like it is in Rochester and Mankato.
About one-quarter of the students at Halverson qualify for special education services. Many are non-verbal and confined to wheelchairs, which is why SPIRIT sees the need for a more inclusive playground.
Sarah Veldman, a parent who is spearheading the drive, said the goal is $40,000. Near the start of the year, the group was about halfway there.
She said they hope to have the equipment by April and are waiting on grant applications and fundraisers to meet the target amount.
Places in Albert Lea with swings for disabled children:
• Halverson Elem. School
• Hawthorne Elem. School
• Sibley Elem. School
• Lakeview Park
• Edgewater Park
• Hayek Park