As the sun set over Lake Elmo Elementary School recently, 12-year-old Donovan Rosckes joined his 9-year-old sister Anella, who uses a wheelchair, on the school’s new playground.
“We couldn’t have done this before,” Donovan said about ascending the equipment side-by-side with Anella. “This is way better than the old playground.”
When the Lake Elmo PTA found out that a summer city sewer project would require removal of the school’s playground, members posed a question: Instead of reinstalling it, could the school replace it with more accessible equipment?
A group of parents and staff researched the options, eventually settling on a blue and green playground with swings, slides, climbing elements and a merry-go-round surrounded with a flat, cushioned surface. It was installed this summer, and gone are the curbs and wood chips that limited access for students who use wheelchairs and walkers.
“We wanted it to be fun for kids of all abilities, and I think we accomplished that,” said Danielle Costello, a member of the volunteer committee and the mother of a fifth-grader who uses a wheelchair. “All kids deserve that experience of being atop a playground.”
The district covered two-thirds of the $300,000 cost, and the PTA has collected donations for the rest.
Lake Elmo Elementary is the cluster site for medically complex students in the district, but previous efforts to get an accessible playground never gained much traction.
“This is phenomenal for this school and this community,” said Erin Mathaus, a paraprofessional at the school. “There are no words for seeing all of our students get to play together.”
At the first recess of the year, Mathaus saw evidence that the students agreed. She sent several photos and videos of Anella on the disk-shaped swings to the girl’s mother, Christie Rosckes.
Anella, who has a rare neurological genetic disorder, cannot speak, but her huge grin said it all, she said.
“I got chills,” Christie Rosckes said. “She loves it.”
At a dedication ceremony this month, Principal Stephen Gorde thanked the community for supporting the project with donations that ranged from a quarter dug out of a student’s pocket to several thousand dollars.
“It was a true community effort,” he said.