A fundraising effort led by a Norwood Young America mom could soon bring a specialized “sensory playground” for students with special needs to a school in Jordan.
Karla Hemmann, 42, has spent several months organizing a “color run” and managing a GoFundMe page to raise money to construct a sensory playground at the River Valley Education Center, where her son and other students with special needs take classes. Sensory playgrounds have specialized equipment — such as musical instruments, objects that spin and mats on the ground — geared toward engaging and supporting children with different disabilities.
Hemman’s 12-year-old son Dane was born with cerebral palsy and has delayed development of his motor skills. She said the opportunity to play outside is critical for her son’s performance in school.
“I do know firsthand of how much play really affects these children in a positive way throughout their school day,” Hemmann said. “Twenty minutes of exercise just gives them hours that they can just sit and work in the classroom, so it’s very useful for these kids.”
Jennifer Worshek, special education director with SouthWest Metro Intermediate District 288, said River Valley currently offers students recess time inside where kids run, walk and ride around on tricycles, or play kickball with staff members. The center in Jordan serves 60-80 students from 11 member school districts each year, and many of the students have balance, mobility and sensory processing issues.
Worshek said specialized playgrounds allow children who have special needs to engage at their own pace. In addition to various objects that make noise and spin, the design she hopes to see built at River Valley includes an igloo-like structure large enough for one child and one adult to enter and escape from the fray.
“It’ll be a safe spot instead of running out of the park,” she said. “They can go in this little cubby and take a sensory break in there.”
Joyce Eissinger, district director of curriculum and program development, said the playground would cost about $100,000. The district has about half the money. It got a grant from Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., which the school district matched, as well as funding from Minnesota Valley Electric, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Jordaness Lions Club, Eissinger said.
The district expects to start building the playground in August, though it still must raise substantial funds.
To fill the gap, Hemmann has planned a color run — a race during which participants are doused in colored powder — in Norwood Young America on July 15. She’s also promoting the project’s GoFundMe page, which she and district reps say is not doing as well as they’d hoped.
“I’m just hoping we get enough that they don’t sit on a huge loan to have this playground at the school,” Hemmann said. “Every little bit helps.”
While cities such as Shakopee and Edina have inclusive playgrounds, Hemmann said it’s important to have one in Jordan for all the families with limited transportation whose children attend the school.
District staff members said they were excited to see how the kids would respond to a playground like this, but Hemmann said she already knows her son Dane will love it.
“Every kid needs to have a playground,” she said. “The whole fun part of school is going outside and having that recess and getting that fresh air.”