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Sugar House Journal

All-inclusive playground opens at Hillside Middle School

Oct 05, 2017 16h12 ● By Natalie Mollinet

Students on the Sway Fun work on balance and coordination. (Natalie Mollinet\City Journals)

Playgrounds are for all children. That’s why Hillside Middle School held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to introduce their new all-inclusive playground, designed with special needs kids in mind. 

“We are thrilled to have the inclusive playground at Hillside. This playground will provide our students with a space that is specifically tailored to their needs and abilities,” Hillside’s Principal Jane Berntson said. “We are grateful to the Salt Lake City School District Board of Education for approving the funds for this playground.” 

Hillside is the only middle school in the Salt Lake City School District that offers both academic skills and life skills instruction for special needs students. They have a total of 30 special need students and this playground offers not only a fun place to play, but an environment that will help them with physical strength and motor skills.

“While this might just look like fun—which it is—there’s a lot of different challenges that can be met and built with the different stations,” Jared Edwards, one of the special education teachers, said. Edwards explained that some students have low muscle tone and struggle with balance and grasp. The different playground equipment could help them grow and learn. 

“We came up with this idea last year,” Berntson said, “and as we thought about how we wanted to include them in our PE and our other classes such as music and art, and one of the things would be awesome is that they needed place for themselves.”

The district called on the help of Sonntag Recreation who helped build the all-inclusive playground. Chris Sonntag mentioned that the Salt Lake City School District did a great job at approaching the project and because of the company’s experience with playground equipment, they were ready for the job. 

“At landscape structures, feel play is universal, it should be something that every child should have the ability to participate in,” Sonntag said. “That’s why these types of project are so exciting to us because we see direct benefits to kids who come to school and feel frustrations because of roadblocks for the other types of activities they’d like to do besides intense learning.” 

As soon as the green ribbon was cut, the kids went at it, using the light and sensory equipment called Pulse that uses stimulating LED light patterns and sounds to help kids develop hand-eye coordination, action/reaction skills and their muscles. Another piece of equipment was a Sway Fun that helps students with their balance and grip. It’s also wheelchair accessible. 

“This was a huge need, and we are so thrilled to have this playground,” Berntson said. “It just really warms my heart.” 

There are only a handful of all-inclusive playgrounds in Utah and more are set to be made this year. 

“Every day, our special needs students start out as underdogs,” Edwards said, “but they end each school day proving the impossible. I’m grateful that we have this unique opportunity to help our students achieve that.”