There were shrieks of joy coming from Allen Elementary’s playground this week as the playground opened with its new synthetic turf surface.
For the two and a half weeks during construction, students peered through the windows and watched the workers as they completed each step.
“The kids watched the workers and kept me informed as to how the playground was doing every step of the way,” said Allen Elementary Principal Chastity Johnson.
Principal Johnson laughed, “I always knew when the workers were taking a lunch break.”
The area was fenced off while the students had recess in the soccer field and brain break areas, but it was well worth the wait.
When the fence around the playground came down, the first students on the playground were from the active learning classroom (ALC). Students in the active learning class have physical limitations that previously prevented them from joining in on the fun with their peers on the playground.
“Students would come and play with our wheelchair bound students at the edge of the playground where the wood chips ended, but eventually they would wander back to the playground,” said Tami Johnson, Allen active learning teacher. “This playground has provided opportunities for all students to grow socially and to play together in an environment that is natural to them.”
While nonverbal students have difficulty sharing their needs, there was no mistaking the joy on the students' faces as some of them touched the playground equipment for the first time.
Jojo Solorzano, a student with limited mobility, laid under the bridge and laughed excitedly as other students ran above him.
“For a student who is often watching from the sidelines, to see the sheer joy on his face as he participated in the fun up close was everything,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, another student who is working on the gross motor skills of balance and accessing the stairs, found the motivation he needed to ascend the stairs in anticipation of the instant reward of being able to go down the slide.
Another student, Ryder Engelmeyer, is able to take breaks from walking by sitting on the turf. He has found joy in the new sensory experience of feeling the turf between his fingers.
Students are learning to take turns and exhibit patience, while participating in the natural conversations that genuinely happen on a playground. It’s a learning opportunity for everyone.
Although the previous playground was ADA compliant, the District continually looks for new ways to include all students in social and academic learning. The new turf surfaces will improve accessibility and promote inclusion for all students.
Replacing wood chips with synthetic turf on the playgrounds is funded by the 2018 bond program approved by voters. The resurfacing will occur over the course of the 2019-20 school year at all campuses, closing each playground for two to three weeks during installation. The estimated $4 million project will improve safety, including preventing wood chips from jamming campus doorways.
As alternatives to wood chips, a committee weighed the options between rubber tiles, artificial turf and poured in place rubber.
“A team of principals and representatives from numerous departments including special education, maintenance and risk management visited sites with various surface materials,” said Scott Warstler, executive director of operations. “In the end, it was a unanimous decision to choose turf.”
The synthetic turf has heat block reflective technology that is less susceptible to scrapes and requires less maintenance. The turf is also non-allergenic, non-abrasive and cushioned, which protects children from falls in accordance with the standards of the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association
The ALC teacher, Tami Johnson, has been with the school district for 11 years and is overjoyed with the inclusive opportunities it has provided for all students at Allen.
“Some of the ALC students are learning to walk independently and the playground turf provides a new level of challenge that they are quickly finding motivating,” said Johnson.