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Grants Help Build Inclusive Playgrounds With Opportunities for All

December 16, 2019

As you drive around Waverly, it’s hard not to notice the playgrounds that dot the community. City parks and school playgrounds provide ample opportunities for children of all ages to have a place to run, jump, slide, and swing. Unfortunately, these places of play are not always accessible or safe for all people, including children with differing abilities. Two Waverly schools, St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Southeast Elementary, a school of the Waverly-Shell Rock Community School District, are striving to make play accessible for all in the community. Both received grants from the Bremer County Community Foundation and Waverly Community Fund to make their visions reality.

St. Paul’s Lutheran School has been a part of the Waverly community for 147 years, and while the playground may not have matched that mark, it was in need of a serious upgrade. St. Paul’s Lutheran School principal, Dr. Kim Meyer, called the completion of the playground renovation one of her “burning goals” for the school, understanding the project’s importance.

“We have had some students in the past who had physical barriers to experiencing the full play experience,” said Dr. Meyer. “We wanted to make it so they could come out and play, and that was our impetus to do this.”

To remedy accessibility issues and create a safer play space for all, St. Paul’s replaced its pea gravel base with a rubber backed surface that made it possible for all children to move and access equipment. With a $2,000 grant from the Bremer County Community Foundation, the school was also able to add a modern seesaw and spinner.

According to Dr. Meyer, these are pieces that emphasize the importance of play in the academic experience of students. “If you read any research, this kind of movement in children, it's excellent for their focus, their ability to focus in the classroom and even the reading skills they get. We wanted to get some of the equipment that was really specific toward learning. Play formulates into such good pathways of learning in the brain, and we absolutely want to promote that here.”

In 2017, Waverly Community School’s Southeast Elementary had a similar goal of creating a safe, inclusive space for students of all abilities and poured in place rubber ground covering surrounding its new equipment. The surface was made possible through a grant of $5,500 from the Bremer County Community Foundation and Waverly Community Fund. The addition was a great start, but the school’s parent group wanted to do more.

“The new equipment and surface are amazing, but we needed to do more for our students who do not, or are unable to, enjoy utilizing the play structure,” said Laura Walbeck, Southeast Elementary Parent Group president. “We wanted to create more accessibility and add engagement opportunities for all that spark imaginative play.”

Using a $3,000 grant from the Bremer County Community Foundation, Southeast Elementary Parent Group was able to support the placement of an accessible path to the new playground equipment. New play panels were also placed along this path. The play panels can be accessed by students of all abilities and are designed to allow students to use problem solving skills, tap into their musical abilities and engage with other students in play.

“The Community Foundation grant was the only way we were able to add these features,” said Walbeck. “Having the Community Foundation partner with us makes our school better for students and benefits the entire community.”

Both playgrounds are open to the public, and both St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Southeast Elementary see this as an important purpose for their recent additions.

“Often, on weekends, we have grandparents using the playground with their grandchildren. Accessing the playground with canes or walkers makes it so enjoyable for extended families,” said Dr. Meyer. “This is a downtown school, and so this is a great way to be central to our community. It's a community playground. There's no doubt about it.”