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Ventura County Star (California)


There's no better place for children to get out some of their boundless energy than on a playground.

Fortunately for students in Camarillo and Thousand Oaks, there's brand new equipment to run, jump and play all over. The new equipment is also compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, so students of all ability levels have something to enjoy while at recess.

"The original code compliance was that 20 percent of the playground (needed to be ADA) compliant, and that was a great step forward at the time when playgrounds weren't ADA compliant at all," said Chris Johnston, assistant superintendent of business services for the Pleasant Valley School District. "But then it's still not all ADA compliant, so kids are being left out of 80 percent of the activities. The idea of this playground is to open it up as much as possible to kids of all physical abilities."

The new playground at the Pleasant Valley School of Engineering and Arts Early Education Center in Camarillo was created with all students in mind but particularly the students of the Preschool Early Education Program or PEEP. The program is for kids ages 3 to 5 who have identified special needs and also those who don't.

"I am proud of our district for living its values by choosing to install a playground where students with mobility impairments can freely play on the same playground as their peers," said Angelica Ramsey, superintendent of the Pleasant Valley district. "Our vision is 'excellence for all' and we are one step closer with this beautiful accessible playground."

The playground is about 80 percent accessible, Johnston said, between the Navy-style ship all kids can play in and the boat that students can rock back-and-forth, to the fun games on the side of the play equipment — there's something for every student to engage with.

In Thousand Oaks, several schools saw playground upgrades over the summer and into the new school year. Conejo Valley Elementary was one of them and the kindergarten playground was the first to go up, with the play equipment for the older kids following close behind.

The kindergarten playground is about as "Conejo Valley" as it gets, complete with steps in the shape of tree trunks. The play equipment itself, from swings to slides, is different hues of greens and browns that blend in perfectly for a school in Thousand Oaks.

"It was the one that fit our campus the best," said Kari Taketa, principal at the school.

She said she got to pick the equipment out of a catalog.

The playground itself sits atop a rubber material, which is also part of ADA compliance, said Tim McCabe, director of planning and construction for the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

"We use it so the equipment is ADA accessible for kids in wheelchairs," McCabe said. "Aside from that, it offers really good fall protection."

The Conejo Elementary playground wasn't the first in the Conejo Valley to get an upgrade. Lang Ranch and Westlake Hills schools got new equipment before. Now, the district just broke ground at Madrona for a new playground and butterfly garden and is entering the design phase for Weathersfield and University Preschool schools.

"They are becoming very popular," McCabe said. "As the other principals of schools see them, then they request them."

Each playground costs $150,000 on average, McCabe said. Some a little more, some a little less depending on if the area surrounding the play equipment needs to be re-designed to be more accessible to all students.

Taketa said seeing the reactions of the students when they got to play on the new equipment and seeing the excitement of parents at back-to-school night made it all worth it.

"I had parents coming up to me at back-to-school night saying, 'We're so excited because you got us a new playground for our kids to play on,'" Taketa said. "You know, it's updated and before ours was so old that it started falling apart, so just having that newness and them feeling like they are valued, I think that's the best part. I also feel like it's a lot safer and age-appropriate."

In Pleasant Valley, the story is similar. The old equipment was aging and needed to be replaced when the school converted to the early childhood education center this year.

"No kid of different ability levels is missing something fun to do," Johnston said. "It's something you can do in every playground in every school. It doesn't have to be limited to one site, that's the neat thing. ... This is really proof that you can do an any-ability playground for everybody, that there doesn't have to be those barriers."

Looking at the faces of the kids as they ran excitedly to the new Pleasant Valley playground letting out little gasps of awe as they went, Ramsey smiled.

"That right there is what it's all about," she said.

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September 18, 2018


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