Kennedy Primary School Principal Twyla Sprouse is on a quest to get some updated playground equipment for Abilene’s youngest public school students.
During the Sept. 9 school board meeting, Sprouse showed members photos of worn playground equipment, areas that are inaccessible to some students, patches that become a fall risk in winter and other concerns.
After discussion, the board gave Sprouse permission to visit with a consultant from Landscape Structures, a playground equipment firm, and two board members, Jennifer Waite and Chris West, volunteered to serve on a playground committee.
Kennedy Primary is the attendance center for kindergarten and first grade students who attend public school. At that age, the playground and the process of play are important in terms of child development, Sprouse said after the board meeting.
“Kids enter school with a variety of experiences,” Sprouse said, explaining that while some students attend preschool before kindergarten, some do not. So learning how to play is important.
“As we get older we know how to play, but how did we learn what we know? That has to be taught.”
To that end, kindergartners learn about playground procedures.
“We model that for kids: how to play appropriately on the equipment, how to take turns — like waiting to get on the swings, what do you do if someone slides down the wrong way?
“The social impact of play is very important. That’s one of the most important things we teach: How to act and express our feelings.”
Although the playground is important to the students, it’s also used extensively by the after-school program and by the community after school hours.
For safety reasons, the areas beneath playground equipment are covered in wood chips. At Kennedy, the wood chips are contained in box-like structures that are at least a foot high, meaning parts of the playground are not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.
“We have several kiddos who are not able to access the playground equipment,” Sprouse told the board. “We have a student who uses a walker and has to actually physically be picked up to access the equipment with her peers. We have another student who is in a wheelchair who can’t even be in the same areas as the other students near the swings.”
As for the sections that have wood chips, they are not spread out evenly, making it a challenge for some kids to play or maneuver.
Old or deteriorating
One piece of playground equipment with a bar at the top has no purpose and is not used. Sprouse said she thinks that at one time it held a tire swing, but there’s been no swing during the four years she’s been principal at the school.
Some playground equipment — the monkey bars, blue bars, teeter totters and swings — likely dates back to when Kennedy, first called Northside School, opened as a kindergarten to sixth grade building back on Aug. 31, 1964.
When she became principal, Sprouse said, her husband redid the seats on the teeter totters. The monkey bars are a worry as some students are “risk takers.”
Some newer pieces of equipment have areas where the plastic protective coating has cracked or is chipping off.
Located on the north side of the building, part of the original playground right outside the door is unusable during the winter if there’s been rain or snow because of downspouts that drain onto the blacktop.
“The whole side of the building is ice if it’s below freezing. The water drains down and there’s nowhere for it to absorb or go,” Sprouse said. “We have big piles of ice, so we have indoor recess. It might be warm enough to go outside, but I can’t let the kids go across that ice to access the playground.”
Capital outlay monies?
Board member Gregg Noel asked Sprouse if she had made a request for capital outlay monies. Sprouse said she had not because capital outlay funds were spent on two expensive projects at the school the past two years — replacing the cafeteria floor and redoing the parking lot.
Waite, who served on the playground committee for Eisenhower Elementary after that school was built, said she did not think there was any financial cost for Landscape Structures to send a consultant and asked Sprouse if she would like a committee to help her during the process.
Sprouse said that would be helpful, noting that having more input would be good.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.