A community-led program aimed at transforming a 7-acre site at East Palo Alto's Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School into an all-inclusive outdoor space will hold a kickoff meeting on Wednesday.
Palo Alto's Magical Bridge Foundation, the creators and developers of playground designs for people of all abilities, is partnering with the Ravenswood City School District to reimagine the outdoor space in a way that is innovative and inclusive of all abilities, the Ravenswood City School District and foundation announced on April 16. They are asking district students, families and educators and the East Palo Alto community for input.
"The goal is to create an outdoor recreation and play space that meets the varying and unique needs of every student, every educator, every staff member and every visitor, regardless of ability or disability," the district and foundation said in a statement.
The nonprofit Magical Bridge Foundation opened its first all-inclusive playground at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto in April 2015. CEO Olenka Villarreal said the idea for Magical Bridge came after she struggled to find a suitable playground where her daughter, Ava, could play. No playgrounds in the city offered equipment that Ava and other children with disabilities could freely use, she said. Although the city's playgrounds comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law is limited, leaving many children with access to equipment but the inability to actually play on that equipment, Villarreal said. Likewise, many surfaces limit access to wheelchairs for children and parents who also have a disability.
Magical Bridge Foundation creates spaces that encourage everyone, regardless of physical or cognitive ability, to play together on specialized treehouses, slides, swings, merry-go-rounds and other play structures and offers wheelchair-accessible surfaces and safe spaces for people with autism spectrum disorder. Programs and volunteerism also encourage building community.
Palo Alto's Magical Bridge park has been so successful that the foundation has been partnering to build other Magical Bridge playgrounds. A park recently opened in Redwood City and others are planned throughout the Bay Area.
"We are excited to shine a bright light on this district for creating a new kind of inclusive space, and hope it will serve as the model of what can be done when the efforts to serve students, families and the community unite in a most magical way! This space will offer something for every student and every visitor, including the one-in-every-four who live with a visible or invisible disability, and are typically excluded in the design of schoolyards and public spaces," Villarreal said.
The space at the Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School will be modeled on the Palo Alto Magical Bridge playground but it will also expand and "reimagine" the entire space for recreation that can be used by students and community members after hours as well. The new space also will provide areas for team sports, shady places for lunch and homework, opportunities to swing, spin and slide, and have other amenities based on the community's input, the district and foundation said.
"All our students deserve a safe place where they can be active, express themselves freely and be themselves, and engage in play of all types. We look forward to creating that place for them and are thankful for our partnership with Magical Bridge Foundation to help us achieve it," Cesar Chavez Principal Amanda Kemp said.
Mele K. Latu, president of the Ravenswood school board, said the public-private partnership "will allow us to transform the back side of Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School into a restorative, engaging and active place that our students deserve."
Magical Bridge will host various Zoom and in-person meetings for community input. School district officials, teachers, staff, students and their families will join the meetings. There also will be stakeholder discussions to plan the future space. Additional outreach will include group planning and focus groups to help refine plans further. The meetings will be hosted in English and Spanish.
The kickoff meeting will take place on Zoom on April 21 at 6 p.m. Register in advance here. Additional meetings will take place on: May 10 at 6 p.m. (register in advance here); and May 25 at 6 p.m. (register in advance here). After registering, participants will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.