Suburban News

Kingsley Elementary School community raises funds for inclusive playground

The project to raise money for new playground equipment at Kingsley Elementary School in Downers Grove isn’t merely about new swings and slides. It’s about creating a place for everyone.

The Kingsley PTA has established a committee to raise money to replace the playground equipment dating from the 1990s. It’s an opportunity to replace outdated equipment and create a play space that is accessible for all students, said Kate Vogus, marketing leader for the Kingsley PTA Playground Committee.

“The kids are so excited. We’re all so excited,” Vogus said. “There will be equipment to climb, slides, accessible swings and even a spinner that can accommodate a wheelchair as well.”

There are several children with physical disabilities at Kingsley including Bradley Burton, who recently finished kindergarten. Bradley has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, but because of the current configuration of the playground and the wood chips, he can’t roll out near the equipment and instead must remain on the blacktop, away from his friends.

And he’s made some really awesome friends, said his mom, Abby Zurliene.

“As a kid, you want those relationships, you want to play with the other kids,” Zurliene said. She has watched her son, who is part of a regular kindergarten classroom, build friendships, connecting with children who see past his disabilities and see a friend. It’s children such as Bradley who inspire others to the project, but the new project isn’t for one, two or a handful of children.

“There are those who want to climb at recess, those who have sensory issues or those who want a calm area to play. We are trying to fit everyone’s needs and make sure there’s a place where everyone can feel welcome,” Zurliene said.

Creating a new playground isn’t easy, and the estimated cost to remove the old pieces, put up the new equipment and replace the mulch with a smooth surface is about $330,000, Vogus said. The committee received a state grant for $190,000 and is hoping to meet its fundraising goal in the next six months in order to install the new playground next summer.

“It makes me feel so good that we’re doing something positive,” Vogus said.

The fundraising isn’t solely the work of parents. Students are working together hosting lemonade stands and asking for donations in lieu of birthday presents. To see the involvement of students brings joy to people such as Downers Grove resident Peg Chaidez.

“I’m hearing stories about kids who want to give up their presents to help the playground. They want to do something special. It gives me hope,” Chaidez said.

For Chaidez, the project is both personal and professional. She is the mother of Owen Chaidez, the namesake of Hillcrest Elementary School’s Playground for Kids of All Abilities. In 2016, she was part of a parent committee that set out to raise funds to build a new school playground that all children would be able to enjoy. It took four years and a lot of starts and stops, but in 2020 she watched with joy as her son cut the ribbon on the new elementary school playground.

“It’s not about the equipment, it’s about the experience,” Chaidez said. “It’s not about one child in a wheelchair. It’s about a community gathering place.”

Chaidez said her experience at her children’s elementary school inspired her to take a position with Play Illinois, which produces commercial playground equipment. In her role, she works with groups such as PTAs to create fundraising campaigns as well as design playgrounds.

“On the playground, children don’t see a child in a wheelchair, they see a friend they want to play with,” Chaidez said.