The new playground at Rolling Hills Elementary in Mukwonago is so expensive, because it will be accessible to students with physical challenges, even those in wheelchairs. The special surface alone will cost more than $30,000. The PTO led years of fundraising to cover the vast majority of the cost.
“We have several children who have challenges, who may not be in a wheel chair but they have challenges, so just trying to walk in mulch, they're not able to do that,”: explained Dawn Ackerman, PTO President. “They can't play with their friends. So either their friends have to go do something in the grass or this child stands by themselves and can't play.”
The extra effort was inspired, in part, by kindergartener Elise Sonnenberg. She has a degenerative muscle disease known as SMA. Confined to a wheelchair, the wood chip play area prevents her from following her friends to the playground equipment. “It's heartbreaking,” explained Elise’s mom, Jenny Sonnenberg. “She wants to be with the other kids. She wants to get on that playground and play with them. To have to tell her no, it doesn't work for your power chair. It's heartbreaking.”
But it wasn’t the Sonnenberg family that pushed to make the playground all inclusive. It really began with her teacher, Katie Shea. “I think not only is it good for the kids that maybe have a physical challenge, but for all the other kids to know diversity,” Shea explained. “That's acceptance. No matter what you look like. No matter if you run to the playground or roll to the playground.”
Shea even organized play dates on the weekend for her class at accessible playgrounds. She said 90% of her students showed up.
The final piece of the playground will be an accessible merry-go-round. Shea personally organized the fundraising for that piece, starting a you-caring page that is almost at its $20,000 goal. Many teachers, she said, prizes for auctions, and area businesses stepped up as well.
They plan to install new equipment in a community build this summer.