By: Marifer Quevedo
The City of Harlingen and the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District have joined forces to provide the community with three all-inclusive playground facilities with structures and features designed to accommodate children of all abilities.
Physical play may seem a simple component, yet there are numerous studies on its profound effect on a child’s cognitive, emotional, and social development.
City and district officials have collaborated to design playground structures that bring all children together—regardless of physical abilities—in a fun and active environment that promotes exercise and social interaction.
“Our community’s approval of the tax ratification as well as our partnership with the City of Harlingen are making this project a reality,” said Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “These all-inclusive playgrounds stand to benefit not only the children of our district but all of Harlingen. They will be a place where children with a wide spectrum of abilities can come together and have fun.”
“The design will allow opportunities for all children to enjoy the playgrounds,” says Oscar Tapia, Assistant Superintendent for District Operations & School Safety. “Special needs children with physical disabilities can play alongside their peers, all while exercising their sensory systems including Tactile, Proprioceptive, Vestibular, Visual, Auditory, Social & Imaginative, and Motor Planning. Children will be able to participate in spinning, sliding, swinging, and climbing on playground equipment, as well as engage in tactile and auditory play experiences, where they can feel, listen, and explore at their own rate.”
The Lon C. Hill playground will be funded through a $425,000 grant received by the city of Harlingen from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. The Pendleton Park and Victor Park playgrounds will be co-funded by the city and HCISD, both of which have agreed to fund a total of $400,000 each for both playgrounds. The district’s TRE funds will make this joint partnership possible.
“Once completed, the all-inclusive playgrounds will provide families with an excellent choice for children to play, exercise, and interact with others in a fun environment,” says Harlingen City Manager Dan Serna. “The playgrounds will be designed to allow children with special needs to use the components of the park along with those without special needs. We are proud of our partnership with HCISD and look forward to completing these playgrounds for the benefit of our citizens and visitors.”
HCISD will incorporate the use of these playgrounds into the curriculum for special needs students.
“It is easy to overlook the importance of social skills,” says Daniel Garza, Director of Special Education. “In the new playgrounds, students will be able to play in conjunction with each other, enhancing cooperation and communication. Social building and recreational activities filter into the curriculum. One of the biggest catalyst for cognitive development will be the stimulation resulting from having multi-sensory features in the park, incorporating components that allow opportunities for students to play both cooperatively with each other and independently.”
After visiting all-inclusive playgrounds in neighboring cities, the design committee identified the most vital feature needed is the space itself to accommodate the physical needs of handicapped visitors.
Students with disabilities such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida who require a mobility device to move around will have pathways and transfer points that exceed ADA standards, enabling them to move more freely in the play spaces. The playgrounds will have ample nooks and niches within the main play structures for students to momentarily recharge as needed. A 5-foot walkway connecting the various structures and activity pods within the playground will provide sufficient space for a walker, wheelchair, or an additional person.
The inclusive approach will alleviate some limitations for approximately 1,800 of the district’s special needs students, including 363 students with severe handicaps in life skills programs across multiple grade levels. The playgrounds will create an environment fostering a feeling of success as students interact on the same level as their peers.
“Many times at recess, special needs students are isolated because the equipment simply does not allow for them to have a more integrated, social experience,” says Garza. “Modifications where students can successfully maneuver are key to increase their sense of pride and encourage socialization.”
Construction at Lon C. Hill will begin mid-January, with the two additional playgrounds following immediately after. All three playgrounds are projected to be completed by the end of March 2017.