Tuesday, January 6, 2015

GW Carver Adaptive Playground.

"If you are given an opportunity but won't take advantage of it, then you're a real live sucka." - Ice T

That is the mindset I took on almost two years ago when I was in the running for (and eventually chosen) as the 2013 Yuma County Teacher of the Year.  I wrote a post about that experience back then.  Fast forward two years and I’ve taken every advantage possible from that opportunity.  Not directly for myself, but for my students, school, and community. 

Yuma County is a small community, but there are certain things here that are a big deal.  Teacher of the Year is one of them.  I learned that it’s the largest teacher recognition ceremony in the state of Arizona.  During the process I quickly saw that I could make some big things happen because of it.  I also figured I had about 12 months to really get after it before the next person was chosen in 2014.  I’m not an arrogant person, but I have learned that sometimes you have to put humility aside and step up to make things happen.  I am a fierce advocate and a loud voice for those with special needs.  Please don’t confuse my words as boastful.  I’m not a “sucka” and neither are those that I have given myself to as a parent, teacher, coach, and advocate.  I speak up and do, not for myself, but for them.  

Shortly after giving my acceptance speech for 2013 Yuma County Teacher of the Year, some members of the Fort Yuma Rotary Club approached me and asked what they could do for my students, and/or school.  My initial response was something along the lines of: “We could really use an inclusive, adaptive playground.  We need a place that all students can use to play together regardless of their abilities.”  Fort Yuma Rotary Club wasted no time getting in touch with me to set the wheels in motion for such a project. 

I gave them a wish list of everything I could possibly want for this playground.  I assured them that I would be grateful if all we received was a swing or a slide, but as long as they asked, I was surely going to answer.  Not only did we get a swing and a slide, throughout the whole process rotary consulted with my principal and I to make sure that the resources they brought together for this would be for specific things we could/would use.  Right down to the color scheme.  Fort Yuma Rotary was extremely efficient throughout.

Fort Yuma Rotary had prior obligations on another project, so our playground was placed on hold for about a year.  This allowed funding and donations to generate to what would become our adaptive playground.  It seemed like every time my principal and I met with Fort Yuma Rotary they had news of a person/organization that donated this and that for the playground.

Because of their efficiency, diligence, attentiveness, hard work ethic, and professionalism Fort Yuma Rotary pooled their resources together and gave my school an adaptive playground, a trike garage (storage shed), a revitalized community garden, and painted a gigantic map of the United States on the concrete in our courtyard.   The main piece was definitely the playground, and as small as it may seem… a storage shed.   My classroom was cluttered with adaptive equipment and tricycles, so the shed freed up a ton of space in my class.  Fort Yuma Rotary wanted to offer something else that the entire school could benefit from, so the revitalized community garden and US map mural were extra gifts for the school.

Our local newspaper, The Yuma Sun, did a really nice article that made it to the front page of Sunday's paper on December 14.  

Rotary worked tirelessly in the planning stages months before the grunt work began.  Demolition and excavation started the week after Thanksgiving. December 12, 13, and 14 were set aside to invite volunteers to join us and put in work.  The whole experience was amazing to watch unfold as all these gracious people gave up their weekend to build us a playground.  Of course I got in on it too and took pictures along the way...

This is the best "before" picture I have.  The playground consisted of a small building (getting demolished here) and a nice set of climbing apparatusus not exactly suited for students with physical disabilities.
Peace out little building.
Well made plans give way to well made things.
Puzzle pieces.
Friday December 12, 2014.
The core piece is in place.
Saturday December 13, 2014.
Project Manager Dan Tortolano smoothes out a cement path to make sure students in wheelchairs have access to the playground.
This triple hoop was a last minute addition that proved to be an excellent extra play area .
So much gravel.
Rotarians hard at work installing the wheelchair swing.
Wrapping things up on Sunday December 14.  After this, the playground was locked and closed for 3 weeks over the Christmas break.  Plenty of time for everything to set and dry.
What makes this playground so special is what you see here.  Unobstructed access to the play structure and a wheelchair platform swing.  Students with physical disabilities can now access a playground designed with them in mind.  Those in wheelchairs can roll right up to the structure or right into the swing and have fun just like every other kid.
On Tuesday December 16, I brought my kids to break it in.
Many school district personnel, rotary members, and others from the community showed up for our ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday January 5.  This picture doesn't look like much, but this student was the inspiration for requesting a wheelchair platform swing.  It only seemed fitting that she cut the ribbon.  She is seen here with our amazing Principal, Ms. Drysdale. Additionally, she is no longer in a self-contained class, but doing well in a general education class with resource support.
No more parking on the sidewalk to watch everyone else have a good time.  Now those in wheelchairs have their own swing and can be a part of the fun too!
This student is extremely motivated to navigate without her wheelchair,  Now she doesn't have to trudge through rocks and dirt to access the playground.  She can wheel right up to it and climb up on her own with little to no assistance.

Preparing for the foundation of the storage shed.
Valley Sand & Gravel
This is located just outside the back door of my classroom.
This shed freed up a lot of space in my classroom.
The Trike Garage.
Connect the dots.
Volunteers putting the final touches down on the mural.
Oh the places you'll go.
I was born and bred in Texas, but I have found a nice home in Arizona.  Yuma has been really good to me.

A room with a view.  My classroom has a wall of windows that used to look out over a dirt plot with a small building and the canal just beyond that.  Now I get to look out over the playground, I wouldn't trade the location of my classroom for anything!
My classroom is just beyond the swing set.
Adapted and included.
Hoop dreams.
This playground serves 3 self-contained special education classes (ages 5-12) and 3 general education kindergarten classes.  A total of about 120 students.  They all play together at different recesses throughout the day.

This is what inclusion looks like!
I am only a small part of the world in a tiny corner of it.  My students are a minute percentage of people with special needs in a very big world that has been cruel and withholding to them.  All students with special needs deserve the same opportunities for education and play as their peers.  Every school that serves students of varying abilities should have inclusive programs.  Why not start with an open and adaptive playground?  As it stands, to my knowledge, we are the only school in Yuma County with this sort of thing.  I hope the whole community will use this as an inspiration to create things that are bigger and better.  We absolutely SHOULD NOT be the only school!  I encourage all who read this to outdo it!  If you're not in Yuma, make something happen in your own community.  Join with local organizations, like Rotary, to put words into action.  If you are given an opportunity, step up and take advantage of it!  You never know when something you do or say will encourage others to want to work with you to make a positive change!
Thank you Fort Yuma Rotary!
There were so many people, businesses, and organizations involved with this whole process.  I know I will surely leave someone off of this list.  If I do, and you were involved, even in the smallest way, please know that we are eternally grateful for your contribution, great or small.

Thank you and endless high fives to:

Dan Tortolano, David Carvell, Janell Johnson, Marisol Caneles, Clayton Hasty, Bob Rolle, Karen Griffith, Charlie Balch, and all of FORT YUMA ROTARY CLUB

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona
The Rotary Foundation
Pilkington Commercial Co.
DPE Construction
Nicklaus Engineering Yuma
Valley Sand & Gravel
Shaw Industries
Yuma Pest
Yuma Disposal
Ahern Rentals Yuma
Ms. Drysdale and all the GW Carver Elementary School staff, volunteers, and parents

Forever stoked!
Project Manager Dan Tortolano and I at the tail end of a long weekend. Dan is a true inspiration of selfless giving. The payoff of his sleepless nights and countless hours are seen everyday on the children's faces. That's priceless!


  1. You are an amazing asset to our school district. Thanks for all you do for our kids.

  2. Well folks: this playground is a monument to what happens when you match a dream found in the sparkle of the teacher's eye and the will and grit of a true service organization. All hail Jarrod Norris and the Fort Yuma Rotary Club.
    Deb Drysdale, humble and grateful principal

  3. Amy & Alex GorgueJanuary 9, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    This is so wonderful to see! I LOVE it!!! Made my day to see it in the news and now I see all those sweet kiddos getting to enjoy PLAYING with the kids instead of sitting on the sidelines! G.W. Carver is awesome :)


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