Let the fun - for all - begin in Elkhart Lake

Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah District opens phase two of inclusive playground

Students, staff, donors and community members gathered Wednesday, Nov. 8, to celebrate the official ribbon-cutting/dedication ceremony for the Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah School District inclusive playground.

The dedication began in the middle school gymnasium with Dr. Ann Buechel Haack and her “Assistant Superintendent of the Day,” second-grader Addison Spatz, welcoming all assembled and providing the background of the project.

Ironically, the project began as a result of plumbing work done at the school in the summer of 2016. To access the underground pipes, the blacktop provided for accessibility to the playground for our students with disabilities was torn out. This was a major problem which needed to be addressed. A group of school staff got together and talk began of updating a section of the playground to make it accessible for the students and including a few pieces of equipment that would be fun but could also work for the students’ therapy. At this time, the plan was to use the same corner where this had been located in the past.

Photos byMike McGill Photos byMike McGill The word got out about the school’s idea to revamp the corner of playground and before any definite plans were on paper, a grant was received from the Ladies of the Lake. While at the meeting to receive the check, information about inclusive playgrounds was learned from the Shaw family who, working with Steve Schmitt, were in the process of constructing such a playground in Sheboygan. As ELGS had partnered with Schmitt with several past projects, such as the greenhouse, a new partnership was again entered into with him.

Next came a meeting with the Midwest Council for Children with Disabilities (MCCD). Lynn Shovan, Rick Gunderson and Dennis Fielder got involved and helped with project support and ideas. They also gave the project a tremendous boost financially with money raised from their MCCD Top Chef event.

Hollie Rickey from Gerber Leisure Products was brought on board and the original idea of revamping the corner was thrown out and a new vision emerged. The district was no longer looking at having a separate area. Now the plan involved:

• A playground where all students could play together.

• A place where individual disabilities did not limit where, with what or with whom a student could interact and play.

• A play area where children who have a disability were not limited to one small section, with their “own” playground equipment, and with only a friend or two with whom to play.

• An area that could be used for both enjoyment and therapy.

• An area where parents and grandparents with mobility issues could play alongside their children/grandchildren.

A playground that was inclusive for all, because when kids are able to play together, differences become less - kids just become kids.

• And the Inclusive Playground Project began. The goal was a multi-phased project with the focus on Phase I. Working cooperatively with the Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah Education Foundation (ELGEF), fundraising began in the winter of 2017with Phase I being opened that April. At that time, $160,000 was raised and the first phase was funded almost entirely by donations and fundraising efforts such as the ELGEF Senior Prom and the student Penny War.

While all students would benefit from this playground, Rayner, an ELGS thirdgrader, shared these thoughts when he saw the playground plans. “I’m excited for this new playground because I can play on it with my friends. I can’t wait to be able to wheel on it with my wheelchair. With this new equipment, I can be closer to my friends during recess. I can also use the new playground with my therapists by wheeling up the ramp to build my arm muscles and learning how to go down a slide and play some new games on the play panels. This new playground will be lots of fun, but will help me lots too!”

The same week Phase I opened, the district was very pleasantly surprised and thrilled to receive a phone call expressing interest in Phase II from a potential donor. So it was back to the drawing board to work on a Phase II design that would complement the existing equipment while also providing additional therapy options to the playground.

A plan was created that was very generously funded in large part by this very generous potential donor, the Pick Family Foundation. Other donors joined in and Phase II was completed in early September and again, the $115,000 needed for this phase was raised through donations. The EL-G School District recognized the donors involved in the project and expressed their gratitude for the very generous and supportive community of which they are a part.

Deb Hammann, the elementary/ middle school principal; Angie Roth, the special education teacher; Addison; and the Middle School Student Government shared how very much the playground renovation project has brought to the students, staff, and the entire EL-G community.

Examples were given of how the playground is being used both for fun and therapy. A common sentiment expressed by the students was they loved that all people can enjoy the new area as the playground is accessible for people in wheelchairs and for people that have special needs. All kids can get involved doing the same activities all together.

Addison summed it well when she stated, “I really like the playground because all kids can play together. No one is left out anymore and that is a very good thing.”

Following the donor recognition, the group moved outside where Rayner had the honors of cutting the ribbon and thus, “officially” opening the playground. Students escorted the “guests/donors” on tours of the playground, enthusiastically demonstrating the new pieces of equipment. The event concluded with a reception in the library/IMC.

The playground is open to all during non-school hours

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