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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
The Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences hopes to get a new playground that will be more inclusive for all students.
And on Thursday, it came a little closer to its $23,000 goal thanks to a donation of $1,000 from the Downtown Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
"We identified two schools who are right in downtown and asked, 'What can we do for both schools in our footprints?" said Beth Harrell, local broker and Downtown Council member. "When we got the wish list this year, we found out that CSAS has some special needs students with physical disabilities."
Those students — two children with spina bifida and a kindergartner missing parts of all four limbs — all chose to attend CSAS, according to Lower School Principal Kelly Coffelt.
"These are terrific families who want to make sure their children are well-integrated into CSAS, and they chose CSAS so they are going to make sure we are prepared for their student[s]," Coffelt said. "But I immediately thought, 'How are we prepared, what do we need to make sure we do?'"
Some of those preparations included altering bathrooms to make them more accommodating and ensuring students could get to and from their classrooms, but Coffelt said not much thought originally was given to the playground.
"It wasn't until they really arrived and started to play on the playground that we realized they can't get on the equipment, they are not able to access the same way their peers can," Coffelt said. "That was really a wake-up call that we needed to integrate these guys into our community."
Other students recognized their peers' limitations on the playground, as well.
Harrell's daughter, Abby Bryant, teaches first grade at CSAS and when the idea for new playground equipment was proposed, she got her students in on the action.
Her first-graders decorated puzzle piece-shaped Christmas ornaments, covered in hand drawings of playgrounds and children at play, to be handed out to donors at Thursday's council meeting.
"We had not encountered students with these types of disabilities before," Coffelt said. CSAS has about 1,100 students enrolled at the K-12 magnet school, with 365 of those enrolled in the elementary, or lower, school.
The school already has raised $7,000 through a parent-led fundraiser in which they sold coupon books in the community, but Coffelt is unsure if that money will be able to be used toward the playground.
"After we raised the money, I found out that our school funds cannot be used toward our playground purchase," Coffelt said. "It has to be through the PTA or an outside source."
Hamilton County Schools spokesman Tim Hensley said the school system does not generally provide playground equipment to schools. Playgrounds usually are donated by organizations or a parent-teacherassociation holds a fundraiser.
The district does ensure schools follow proper installation procedures and that all local and state codes are followed when the equipment is installed and in use, Hensley said.
Like library books, Coffelt said, "There's a lot of things that people think the school system should supply, but that's not where the money goes."
CSAS plans on working with and already has equipment picked out — a spinning chair, a modern merry-go-round and a crawling bridge that is safe for all children. For these few pieces of equipment and rubber siding for safety, the bill will be more than $20,000.
"This is developmentally valuable for these children, it is a part of their education and part of what we as a school need to offer them," Coffelt said. "They are as much a part of it as any child and we need to make them, maybe especially, feel welcome and that they can be a part of the play as well as the classroom."
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.
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