El Carmelo Elementary School in Palo Alto is one of several local schools that received funding this week from Santa Clara County to build an all-inclusive playground on their campuses.
The county Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday a second $10 million round of matching funds for all-inclusive playgrounds to be built at schools and parks throughout the county, including at El Carmelo and in Mountain View, Cupertino, Santa Clara and San Jose. The Magical Bridge Foundation, which built one of the country's first inclusive playgrounds at Palo Alto's Mitchell Park in 2015, is working closely with the Palo Alto school district on the design for the El Carmelo playground, said Executive Director Jill Asher.
The groundbreaking playgrounds are designed to include children and parents with physical or cognitive disabilities, with careful consideration paid to smooth surfacing; custom climbing, sliding, swinging and spinning zones that improve balance, spatial orientation, focus and motor skills; and spaces that encourage quiet play.
"It's gratifying, and frankly, it's just the right thing to do — to provide all-inclusive places to play and socialize," said Santa Clara County Board President Joe Simitian. "I'm so pleased that our County stepped up to help create more of these innovative playgrounds for all."
The school board unanimously approved in October a proposal to apply for matching grants from the county for a playground at El Carmelo. The district's share, $200,000, will be funded through the Strong Schools Bond reserve.
El Carmelo is the second Palo Alto Unified school to receive funds from the county to build an inclusive playground. Addison Elementary School secured a $300,000 matching grant earlier this year to build a "reduced" scope playground that organizers hoped would serve as a model for other school districts.
In previous discussions, board members have expressed a commitment to building inclusive playgrounds at all of its elementary schools.
"We have 12 elementary schools and we want to have 12 inclusive playgrounds," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said in October. "That has been our motto all along: progressive parity."
In 2017, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan proposed by Simitian to set aside $10 million in matching funds for all-inclusive playgrounds to be built in each of the county's five districts. This is the second funding round, which Simitian's office said is "designed to leverage additional funds from cities, school districts, philanthropies, and individual donors."
More than 10,000 children in Santa Clara County have "major disabilities" and over 20,000 receive special-education services in schools, according to Simitian's office. But the fabric of the county's schools and parks don't match that reality: Except for the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto and the Rotary PlayGarden in San Jose, parks, nor city or school playgrounds, are fully accessible to children or family members with disabilities, his office noted in an announcement.
"These grants show just how much we can do if we partner together," Simitian said. "I hope this will inspire additional partnerships in the coming years."
The Magical Bridge Foundation is building additional new playgrounds in Redwood City, Sunnyvale and is fundraising for a playground at Rengstorff Park in Mountain View, Asher said.