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playgrounds - new playground at McNutt Elementary
Posted in , on March 8, 2024

Playgrounds funded by the 2019 Bond

All 105 new playgrounds in the Arlington ISD are now open.

The years-long project – funded by the 2019 Bond – to make sure every single Arlington ISD elementary student has access to a fun playground wrapped up last month when McNutt Elementary’s new playgrounds – the last two – finally opened.

As fun as they are, the playgrounds also play a critical role in education.

“Recess is a crucial component of the academic success of students,” said Speer Elementary principal Stephanie Savala. “It plays a significant role in improving focus, physical activity and student engagement in class.”

Every elementary school got two new playgrounds, one for pre-K through first grade and the other for second through sixth grade. Kooken Education Center was the only exception with just one playground because all of its students are 3- and 4-year-olds.

The playgrounds were designed with teacher and student input and include shade structures, accessible play equipment and rubber surfacing. While the equipment is standard from campus to campus, each school got to make its own color selections.

Gone for good are wood chips, pea gravel and aging play equipment.

Smiles all around

“The kids are loving it!” said Pope Elementary principal Celina Kilgore about Pope’s recently opened playgrounds. “Our playground is located in the center of our track, so it’s a pretty unique location. There were lots of smiling happy faces when we were able to open the playground for students.”

The smiles are still there with so many features that make the playgrounds extra special. This is the first time every school in the district has had covered playgrounds. The rubber surfacing is soft to run on and cushions every fall. And there are so many play elements – from ropes and climbing walls to slides and musical instruments.

“Oh my goodness!” yelled a third-grader, streaming her thoughts aloud when she stormed Pearcy STEM Academy’s playgrounds for the first time. “This is awesome! Awesome. So many choices!”

Butler Elementary’s principal Mark Basham feels the same way.

“The accessibility, the opportunities, the amount of swings, the shade. I mean it doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. “The space for the kids is spread out and there is no competition or fighting over who gets what. The kids just all have fun. We hardly have any behavior incidents out here because it’s just about having fun.”

Fun for every student

It’s about having fun for every student. That’s why the playgrounds were designed from day one to be accessible for all.

“For the first few years after joining the district, I received emails and telephone calls from parents and principals alike asking me what I could do to help our students with special needs and disabilities to enjoy our playgrounds with their fellow students and friends,” said Kelly Horn, Arlington ISD’s assistant superintendent of facility services. “Even our newest playgrounds [at the time] at schools like Adams and Patrick elementary schools were not fully ADA accessible. It would break your heart to see the pictures and hear their stories.”

So, Horn made accessible playgrounds one of his biggest priorities during the planning stages for the 2019 Bond. And then the community delivered, supporting the bond and making what every school now has a reality.

“My class loves the new playground and the accessibility for all,” said Jamie Topp, who works in alternate curriculum at Beckham Elementary. “It has made recess an option for everyone … It is such a joyous time for our class to be able to enjoy recess/outdoor time just like our peers. For my students and their families, it means so much that everyone can play at recess and enjoy the playground.”

Trina Bristol, a special education teacher at Beckham, remembers four years ago when her students got to vote on what equipment should go on the new playgrounds. Now, her students are swinging and sliding on what they once only imagined.

“My ISPD Special Education class enjoys our adaptive playground as they are able to enjoy swinging either in their wheelchair in a swing that allows for their wheelchair to rest on a platform or with a supported seatbelt in an adaptive swing. I also have a couple of ambulatory students who enjoy the slides. It is wonderful for both students and parents to feel the inclusion that we offer here on our playground.”

Worth It

It took years of planning and work – with a disruptive pandemic in the middle – to make the dream of new accessible playgrounds a reality at every Arlington ISD elementary school.

But it was worth it.

“Of all the things I get to do, opening an accessible playground has to be the highlight,” Horn said. “For all the kids to be able to play really makes your heart feel good.

“A big ‘Thank you’ to our community for making the dreams of so many a reality for everyone.”