The Lincoln School PTO aims to buy equipment that will better serve all students, including those with physical challenges.
WESTFIELD, NJ — Recess is the first thing Erica Witte’s 8-year-old daughter talks about when it comes to her school days.
But for her 4-year-old son at Lincoln Early Childhood Center, who uses a walker for mobility support, that’s not the case due to the facilities available at the school’s two playgrounds.
“The teachers try to come up with ideas for things that he can do, but it’s more limited for him because there’s not this equipment,” Witte said.
He’s not alone. About 70% of preschoolers at Lincoln School receive services for special needs, including occupational and speech therapy, Witte said. To better help those students, the Lincoln School PTO is fundraising for equipment that will make the playgrounds more inclusive.
Witte, who chairs the PTO’s playground project, said their goal is to purchase and install equipment that will allow all children with physical and other challenges to better play with their peers.
“We have identified multiple pieces of playground equipment that are accessible to students who have mobility challenges as well as kids who just want to play on the playground,” Witte said.
One example of proposed equipment, she said, includes a train engine in which a child in a wheelchair or walker could play beside other children standing on the equipment. Also planned is a Brava Universal Swing, which is designed for children of all abilities to swing using the parts of their body they are most comfortable with.
The plans additionally call for a communication board, which will aid children with communication challenges, Witte said. Using signs and symbols, communication boards help children with limited language capabilities to better converse.
In a little over a week, Witte said, the PTO received over $10,000 in individual donations for the project. It has also received support from the Westfield Foundation, which last week approved a $50,000 grant request, bringing the project to 60% of the funding needed, she said.
“This is amazing news for the students of the Lincoln School, as well as the broader Westfield community,” Witte said. She noted that during non-school hours the playgrounds are used by the public.
Westfield Foundation President Lawrence L. Darrow said the nonprofit is proud to be an anchor donor for the Lincoln School playground project.
“It was a great opportunity for the Foundation to continue to help provide the Westfield community with another inclusive playground,” Darrow added. “The project struck many of the same chords when the Westfield Foundation donated $400,000 for the renovation of the playground at Mindowaskin Park. In 2018, when the Mindowaskin Park playground re-opened, it was the first of its type in Union County.”
The Optimist Club of Westfield will be presenting a $2,500 check to the PTO to aid in the effort. “It’s in line with our mission and purpose of service to youth,” said Darielle Walsh, president of the Optimist Club. “When we heard about the project, we felt it is very worthwhile and that we want to support it. Also, there’s no playground like that on the south side, which appealed to us.”
In a video, Lincoln School Principal Tiffany Jacobson expressed her support. “I’m very excited to be partnering with our PTO to bring more inclusive playground equipment to our playgrounds,” Jacobson said. “We all know how important outdoor play and playground play is for students reaching developmental milestones. So this will not only help strengthen connections among peers but also make them healthier and happier.”
The project comes as the school district faces a funding challenge that last year forced layoffs. To maintain services, school officials have said, the district will request voters approve a tax hike above the state’s levy cap.
The playground fundraising continues with the goal of raising the monies so that the equipment can be purchased and installed for the beginning of the next academic year, Witte said.
She is pleased with the community feedback and credits the support of the PTO, including its president, Laura Skidmore, who works in special education law, and Reema Thakkar, the PTO’s head of fundraising, who is a physical therapist.
“It’s been so refreshing to have just people excited about this and want to make a change,” Witte said. “I’m really invested in this project along with our PTO.”
To meet their target, additional funds are needed, she said. To learn more and donate to the cause, visit the PTO’s website.
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