Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mt. Lebanon's Foster Elementary opens 'inclusive' playground

Mt. Lebanon's Foster Elementary opens 'inclusive' playground
Thursday, September 16, 2010
By Kaitlynn Riely, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Larry Roberts/Post-GazetteSofie Pell, 8, a third-grade student at Foster Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, hangs from a modern jungle gym along with Katie Leibow, 9, during recess Tuesday.On a cool, sunny morning, every piece of playground equipment at Foster Elementary School was in use.

First, second and third graders clambered around the climbing station, pushed each other on tire swings and jumped on stationary pogo sticks.

Three years of planning, fundraising and then installation this August resulted in an "inclusive playground" meant to be accessible for children with vision problems, motor delays or impairments and mental disabilities, said Foster principal Patrick McClintock-Comeaux.

The swing set has regular swings as well as what Mr. McClintock-Comeaux described as a "roller coaster seat," with a back and a harness. A modernized seesaw, with room for up to 20 kids at a time, is low enough for a child with a wheelchair to sit on it, and has no parts that can pinch fingers or catapult riders off the device.

Tire swings are set at a low level for wheel-chair bound children and a Sway Fun, a flat glider with two seats and a table, can hold a wheelchair. The climbing equipment has different colored panels for different levels, a component that a parent suggested to make it easier for her vision-impaired child to navigate.

Foster Elementary does not currently have any students in wheelchairs, though there are children in the community who are in wheelchairs, Mr. McClintock-Comeaux said. The school does have students with autism spectrum disorder and with vision problems, and the new playground equipment will make it easier for them to play, he said.

"The whole point is that we are not just building it for our kids. We are building it for the whole community," he said.

Games are held on the fields next to the playground, and the playground is open to use for the public, so he said he anticipates the new set will see a great deal of use.

Mr. McClintock began speaking with teachers and parents about ways to improve the playground equipment three years ago, and over the course of a year they met with several different vendors to pick pieces.

A Playground Fundraising Committee, led by co-chairs Julie Maselko and Kim McFadden, raised about $80,000 during the past two years, including a $12,500 grant from state Rep. Matt Smith.

A dedication for the playground was held last Friday.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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