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Ribbon cut on inclusive playground equipment

Hunter Johnson, 12, plays with other children on a big saucer called "Sway Fun" Thursday at Halverson Elementary School. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Hunter Johnson, 12, plays with other children on a big saucer called “Sway Fun” Thursday at Halverson Elementary School. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

The students at Halverson Elementary School got in some exercise on Thursday morning, and then got the opportunity to take their brand new playground for a test drive.

Lindsey Rognes, 13, plays on a big, green saucer that wobbles back and forth on Thursday while her mother, Becky, attempts to photograph her and the other children. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Lindsey Rognes, 13, plays on a big, green saucer that wobbles back and forth on Thursday while her mother, Becky, attempts to photograph her and the other children. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Students, staff, parents and supports cut the ribbon on playground equipment considered inclusive, which means kids in wheelchairs can play with ones using their legs.

“It adds to what we currently have,” Sofio said. “It’s something that is handicap accessible, so that children that are in wheelchairs are still able to come participate and be a part of some of the playground activities that our school might be having.”

The students at Halverson played a major role in funding the $42,000 project that added more than $50,000 in new equipment to what the school already had in place. However, this equipment is inclusive, Mother Becky Rognes said it is the only inclusive playground within an hour drive. The others are in Rochester and Mankato.

Halverson Elementary School Principal Nick Sofio cuts the ribbon to the new playground equipment Thursday. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Halverson Elementary School Principal Nick Sofio cuts the ribbon to the new playground equipment Thursday. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Rognes and other mothers are part of the organization that raised the funds — district’s Special Education Advisory Council and the parent-teacher group for Halverson.

“It’s absolutely an awesome situation that we have here right now,” Halverson principal Nick Sofio said. “The kids, families, parents and community have all done a really good job of banding together to work very hard to get this new equipment in our playground, which benefits all our children.”

Students helped fund the project Thursday by participating in Halverson’s second annual Walk-A-Thon. Students walked up to four miles along a route that started at Halverson and made stops at Frank Hall Park and the Blazing Star Trail. There were various activities at “rest stops” along the route, including face painters and snacks.

“It’s an alternative healthy way to kind of start getting kid to start thinking about healthy alternatives,” Sofio said. “To add onto it, it’s a good fundraising activity.”

Students came back to Halverson from the walk in waves, and got the opportunity to play on the new playground until the next group of classes came back. The equipment was installed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Halverson Elementary School students play on new playground equipment Thursday. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Halverson Elementary School students play on new playground equipment Thursday. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Thursday couldn’t have came fast enough for the students at Halverson, Sofio said that buzz about the new playground had been almost constant.

“All the way going back to last spring kids have been asking ‘When are we going to be able to get the new playground in?’” Sofio said. “This week as we were installing they’ve been waiting very patiently to get out and play on it.”

Immediately after the ribbon cutting, wheelchair users Lindsey Rognes and Hunter Johnson rolled onto big saucer that moves back and forth. Then the other children joined them and made the thing wobble, with smiles all around.

Both Rognes and Johnson attend Southwest Middle School, but the effort to install the equipment began when they were students at Halverson.