At Byrnedale Elementary School, Gavin McCain is a popular kid. He’s a ball of energy, and he can’t wheel or walk down the hallways without a student, teacher, or staff member saying “hi” or checking in on his day.
And Gavin loves to be social, but until this fall he had limited options to play with all of his friends at recess. Cerebral Palsy and alternating hemiplegia — a rare disorder that causes temporary paralysis — keep the fifth-grader in a wheelchair for most of the day.
Byrnedale’s playground is covered in mulch, which is nearly impossible for wheelchairs and walkers to navigate, so Gavin and other students with disabilities often played on the sidewalk.
But thanks to a $10,000 grant from Lowe’s, Gavin and his peers can now play right alongside one another. This fall the public school on Glendale Avenue added an adaptive playground with swings that buckle for safety. The ground is smooth, soft rubber, so walkers and wheelchairs glide easily across it.
And the new addition is connected to the existing playground, so students of all abilities can mingle.
“Gavin is aware of his limitations every day. When you have a special kid, there are just some things they can’t do,” said Gavin’s mother, Monica McCain. “It’s an excellent thing that at school, he can be part of everything. And he enjoys it.”
Mrs. McCain and husband Tyrone worked with Byrnedale Principal Christina Ramsey to bring the adaptive playground to her son’s school. On a visit to her parents in Alabama, the family discovered a playground where all three of their children — Gavin, 9-year-old Caleb, and 2-year-old Maxwell — could play.
For Mrs. Ramsey, the playground addition was the answer for which he had long searched. The school has nearly 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and about 120 of them have individualized education plans. Some of those 120 students have multiple disabilities while others need extra help academically, and they’re placed in mainstream classes throughout the day, depending on their needs.
“Byrnedale does a great job of being inclusionary within our four walls,” Mrs. Ramsey said. “Our students are included in the day-to-day activities. They’re not tucked off in a corner. They’re integrated with our whole population.”
But the fact that her students couldn’t all socialize at recess bothered her. She remembers the day they unveiled the accessible playground as an emotional moment in her career.
“Everybody plays, everybody belongs,” she said.
The adaptive equipment has made a difference for students with disabilities, but it has also affected those who don’t. Caleb can now play with his older brother during school and introduce him to his friends and classmates. It’s something he proudly told his parents one day after school when the playground opened.
“He was like, ‘Mom, I can play with Gavin at recess now!’ And I had tears,” Mrs. McCain said.
The McCains are hopeful Byrnedale’s success will spread throughout Toledo Public Schools and the city, and create more options for children with disabilities to get some exercise and play.
“I’m hopeful that other schools can adapt the same concept, even local parks,” Mrs. McCain said. “Kids want to play wherever they are. Having other options for special kids makes it helpful for parents.”
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