Sean Bartelt, District 128 physical education instructor (from left); Principal Mary Lynn Duffy; the Chippewa mascot; Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz; and District Supt. Dr. Merryl Brownlow, at Chippewa School's playground ribbon-cutting on August 16. (Photos by Kelly White)

Sean Bartelt, District 128 physical education instructor (from left); Principal Mary Lynn Duffy; the Chippewa mascot; Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz; and District Supt. Dr. Merryl Brownlow, at Chippewa School's playground ribbon-cutting on August 16. (Photos by Kelly White)

Chippewa School unveils new playground

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Children rush to play on the playground at Chippewa School’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new playground last Wednesday aftrenoon.

By Kelly White

Students at Chippewa School returned to the classroom last week with an entirely new all-inclusive playground.

The playground renovation was part of a planned facility upgrade to replace the aging equipment at the school, 12425 S. Austin Ave., Palos Heights.

“This is a wonderful accomplishment,” Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz, said. “The school district is doing fantastic, and we are proud to have such a great relationship between the district and the city.”

Straz and school officials were part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on Wednesday, August 16, and were all exceptionally prideful that the playground proposal sparked right in the classroom.

“What I like most about the new playground is that the Chippewa students had a voice in designing it,” District 128 Supt. Dr. Merryl Brownlow, said.

Chippewa School, often referred to simply as Chippewa, is located in unincorporated Palos Heights and is a first- through third-grade elementary building, serving approximately 225 students. Chippewa is one of four schools in Palos Heights School District 128.

8During the previous academic year, the design process included input not only from the school’s students, but also from staff, Palos Heights Parks and Recreation, and Alsip Parks and Recreation. After several iterations, the students voted on the final playground design, working alongside Chippewa’s school’s physical education instructor, Sean Bartelt, to provide feedback on what they wanted to see included.

Their feedback resulted in an incredibly award-winning all-inclusive playground design.

“It’s been a really fun process working with students to pick a design,” Bartelt said. “To be able to be a part of the entire process and to see it come to fruition has been really cool.”

“The students definitely had strong opinions and there was a huge majority consensus on the elements that were ultimately selected,” Brownlow said. “Many times, educators forget to ask the client (our students) what will work best to serve their needs. Even our youngest learners are able to share insight on what will contribute to a positive learning experience for them. As a district, we are proud of the agency and voice provided to our students in contributing to projects like this one. It brought great pride and joy to the staff that our students were so engaged and insightful in their contributions to the project.”

When the district was granted the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief dollars, school officials recognized the need for students to have outdoor spaces to safely socially gather and interact. With that in mind, the school allocated a portion of those dollars to this project, redesigning and replacing its former playground.

The total cost of the project was estimated at $450,000 for renovation of the foundation and footprint, installation and equipment. The project was completed by GLI Services and the equipment was purchased through GameTime.

Construction of the new playground took place over the summer, beginning June 2 and ending on August 14.

The new playground offers more opportunities for social interactions for students through greater ADA access to playground elements, meaning that is easy to approach, enter, operate, participate in, and/or use safely and with dignity by a person with a disability.

Almost all of the play elements are new to the playground or have been upgraded from what was there previously, and some of the exciting new features include the VistaSky Rope Tower climbing element, a multi-person see saw, sensory panels and musical elements, racing slides, and an ADA accessible swing. The deck structure also has a ramp for ADA accessibility.  The design also features umbrellas to provide shade while playing on the structure.

The variety of elements also has a broader appeal to students of varied sensory and motor interests, school officials said.

“One of the primary goals of the redesign was to expand the inclusive opportunities for all students that will promote greater social interaction, communication, and relationship building among them,” Brownlow said. “With its inclusive design, the playground provides a much greater opportunity for social interaction among all students.”

Prior to the end of last school year, the school shared just the project design and received grand recognition by being named a National Demonstration Site for inclusivity from Palycore, Assistant Supt. Jason Smit said.

Playcore is an organization dedicated to advancing recreation through research-based best practices. Our site is being recognized for encompassing Principles of Inclusive Playground Design, defined as applying a comprehensive design philosophy to innovate an outdoor play environment where physical and social including can occur to the greatest extent possible.

Aside from its many all-inclusive aspects, the new park also includes an artisanal fence enclosure gated on the south side leading to the neighborhood and to the west allowing for sidewalk pathway access. The gates provide leeway for strollers and bicycles to travel across the blacktop and will remain open when school is not in session.

“The playground not only benefits the students at Chippewa, it provides a benefit to the wider Palos Heights community,” Brownlow said. “As part of our Playcore designation, our playground is noted for playing a vital role in our community because it provides a high-quality outdoor space for kids of all ages and abilities, physical activity and mental reprieve, and meaningful connections accessible to all.”

Additionally, as part of this project, the school partnered with Kids Around the World to repurpose any viable equipment from its old playground.

Kids Around the World harvested the viable old equipment and relocated it to build a playground for a community in need where children would otherwise not have access to a play space. In addition to creating a more inclusive opportunity for the children of Chippewa, the district also supported enhancing the lives of children in need.

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Chippewa School, 12425 S. Austin Ave., held a ribbon-cutting ceremony August 16 for its new all-inclusive playground.

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