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Students lead efforts to create inclusive playgrounds

Red Hawk Ridge playgroundThe playgrounds at Cherry Creek School District elementary schools are places children can enjoy in the summer, as well as during the school year. That’s especially true at Black Forest Hills and Red Hawk Ridge elementary schools, thanks to the efforts students put in during the past school year to make sure those playgrounds are accessible to all children, including those with disabilities.

The playground at Black Forest Hills Elementary now features a blue path, making it accessible, thanks to fifth-grader Finnley McMurdo. She was inspired after seeing friends in wheelchairs unable to join in games because of gravel surrounding the playground.

“It’s a lot more fun for them, they have a lot more fun at recess now,” McMurdo explained before summer break. “They can now get to things that they couldn’t get to, like the swing. Now that there is a path, they can get to it, so it probably makes them pretty happy too.”

Black Forest Hills students on playgroundMcMurdo created a proposal and, with support from the Vance family and the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, raised nearly $30,000 for the project. Completed by Rocky Mountain Playground Services, the new playground was finished in April.

“It’s pretty fun,” said fifth-grader Ethan Hoot, who also uses a wheelchair. “The blue on the ground helps me get closer to the playground. It was a good thing to do for us.”

“I can now have fun on the playground and play with my sister because of Finnley!” another student who uses a wheelchair said.

McMurdo hopes her efforts inspire others to create inclusive environments.

“Even though I am leaving for middle school, there are a lot of students to come, and if there weren’t these paths, it wouldn’t be as accessible to them. So it makes me feel really happy and glad and so grateful,” McMurdo added. “I hope that other kids who have a dream like this will pursue it too.”

Members of the Student Council at Red Hawk Ridge Elementary led a similar effort at their school this past year. They recognized that their playground had limited options for students with disabilities, so the Student Council partnered with the school’s Parent-Teacher-Community Organization (PTCO) to develop a plan to improve the playground for all students and people in the community.

RHR students playground presentationThe students put together a presentation, complete with facts and photos about the current playground and the need for upgrades, so they could request grant funding from the Parker Jordan Metropolitan District, a special governmental entity that provides park and recreation facilities and other civic infrastructure for the 1,080-acre district in southern Arapahoe County.

Five students made their case before the district’s Board of Directors last September. 

“I was very nervous,” third-grader Griffin Lloyd recalled.

“It felt nerve-wracking because I haven’t really presented in front of a lot of people, especially important people,” added fifth grade student Kiyah Duran.

But a month later, they learned their hard work paid off when the Parker Jordan Metropolitan District awarded the school a grant of $230,000 for the construction of an inclusive playground.

Red Hawk Ridge playgroundWork on the playground began after winter break and continued until May, when the entire school community celebrated the opening of the new and improved playground. It features a new jungle gym, disc swings, and outdoor xylophones and drums so students can make music outside. Students and community members with and without disabilities can now access and enjoy the playground.

“You talked about creating an inclusive playground for all, ensuring that all of our students and community members can enjoy a safe place to play,” Principal Michelle Chambers said. “You did a lot of work within a short time to share your voice and we are so proud of you!”

Posted 7/2/2024.