A group of Loyola School third-graders asked the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees for an inclusive playground at the board’s May 29 meeting.
“As a child, what was your favorite part of the playground?” Loyola third-grader Evan Lyons asked trustees.
After trustees responded “swing” and “slide,” Evan continued, “What if you couldn’t access that activity during playtime? We have friends at school that can’t access our school playgrounds. The tanbark and stairs prevent those with physical limitations, and the swings and monkey bars aren’t accessible for kids with limited strength.”
Evan’s classmate Quinn Riley told the trustees that the Loyola third-graders first thought of an inclusive playground when their STEM teacher Grace Choi challenged them with the question, “How might we make someone’s experience at Loyola better?”
“We collected information of problems that we see at Loyola and put them into categories such as academic, physical, social and emotional,” Quinn said. “The biggest problem that we noticed was that our school playground is not accessible to all of our students.”
Student Sophia Penn said the class researched playgrounds in the area and nationwide that are considered inclusive and discovered the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park, designed for all ages and abilities.
As the third-graders wondered how they could get the same type of playground built in Los Altos, they invited Los Altos Mayor Jean Mordo to their classroom to advise them about approaching civic officials. Mordo encouraged the students to attend a Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, which some did over their spring break.
“Now, here we are on a mission to make our schools more inclusive,” third-grader Flore Grateau said to the trustees.
Constructing a ‘cozy cocoon’
Student Andrew Wall explained to the trustees that an inclusive playground means that kids with visual and sensory impairments, autism and physical limitations would have full access to the playground equipment.
“With the support of Magical Bridge and Mrs. Choi, our STEM teacher, we designed our own inclusive playground. We even hired consultants – our fifth-grade buddies – to design and 3-D print parts of our models,” third-grader Lukiana Cherkashina added.
Classmate Chloe Fazilat called the inclusive playground designed by the class a “cozy cocoon.”
“It allows those with autism and sensory challenges to hang out when active play feels overwhelming,” she said. “The swings we created allow kids with limited upper-body strength to swing with the security of a harness to keep them safe.”
The third-graders were accompanied by their friend Eliza Poffenberger, a transitional kindergartner with special needs.
“This project is important to me because my buddy Eliza usually spends her lunchtime at the lunch tables,” Chloe said. “She isn’t able to play at the playgrounds and so we usually just sit and talk. I want her to be able to play.”
Third-grade teacher Tracy Grinberg told the trustees that her students’ commitment to the project exceeded her expectations.
“When we started this project, I had no idea where it would take us,” Grinberg said. “We could have just ended the project with the brainstorming or some posters. But the passion of my students caused a ripple effect.”
According to Grinberg, these are “empathetic students who are empowered to make a difference in our world.”
The Loyola contingent left the meeting after their presentation. Trustee Jessica Speiser later told the Town Crier that she loves their idea, and the trustees will evaluate the cost and feasibility when the students officially submit a proposal.
“I would certainly consider a proposal from them for such a playground,” Speiser said. “There is definitely a need for a playground like it in our community.”