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Students chase dreams at new playground

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Melissa Mortimer plays with one of her twin boys on the Dreamcatcher Playground slide. Melissa Mortimer plays with one of her twin boys on the Dreamcatcher Playground slide.
Mortimer helps her sons Aaron and Jory play. Mortimer helps her sons Aaron and Jory play.

By Darren Brown, INsite team

CHOCTAW, Okla. -- What's the point of going to a playground if you can't play?  Special needs don't always translate into special access for some kids.  And the outdoor "classroom" hasn't always been easy to navigate.  But at Choctaw Elementary, recess has become a lot more user-friendly.  

Barbara Schaefer, a preschool teacher for children with developmental delays, explains the significance for playground time.

"When they were in our classroom in the preschool program we could do motor activities and, you know, kind of make it work.  But once they moved into regular classes and into recess, they couldn't access the playground," she said.

Glynese Henderson, who also works with developmentally delayed children, felt the same.

"If you had a disability of some kind physically, and couldn't access the playground, you couldn't go out and play," said Henderson. 

Schaefer and Henderson knew they had to do something.  They hatched the idea for the Dreamcatcher Playground, a place where all children could play--without barriers.  The playground has wider walkways, ramps and more enclosed play areas for safety.

"We built phase one, which was that part right there, in 2004.  In 2006 we added the two banks of swings, and then in 2007 we added the concrete patio here and the brick path," Schaefer said. 

Melissa Mortimer and her family use the playground often. Ten-year-old Alexis, and her twin brothers Aaron and Jory, all have spinal muscular atrophy. That means that they can't play easily at other playgrounds.

"I don't think they would get the exercise they get as they do here--anywhere else--they can actually walk and use their muscles, where everywhere else they would just sit in swings," said Melissa.  "This, like keeps them on the same level as the other kids, and it's something that Alexis was never able to do."

"I usually just kinda sat on the bench and just talked or just sat there," Alexis, a 5th grader, said. 

The next step for Barbara and Glynese is to raise the funds to finish the playground--around $500,000 dollars. They said they're not worried about the timing, only that the "dream" gets fulfilled.

"We want to replace barriers with laughter, play and smiles, and that's the bottom line--it's what we're after," Schaefer said.

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