If you are looking for an uplifting story about the compassionate nature of kids, this project will leave you smiling. It is the story of a class of six- and seven-year-olds at Harry E. James Elementary School in Hopewell, Virginia that came together to create a play area for their fellow classmates who were without playground equipment. It all started one day when they were outside for a lesson in the school garden and witnessed the special education students playing in a fenced in area that did not have a playground. After a discussion about safety and accessibility with their teacher, Melissa Miles, they decided then and there that the students needed a playground that was designed for ALL abilities. The project was born, and they started to plan for an inclusive playground.
Since it was their compassion that inspired the project, they were involved with it from start to finish. Ms. Miles, along with teachers Berea Longwell and Ariel Absher-Esque, bravely led them through the experience of designing and managing a playground project, finding teaching opportunities every step of the way. The students participated in brainstorming sessions, did research and prepared a persuasive video to fund-raise. After getting input from the kids who would be using the equipment, the students then helped select the equipment to include. Although the COVID-19 pandemic slowed their momentum a bit because funds needed to be reallocated, they persevered. The class was fortunate to be able to continue with Ms. Miles into the next school year when she made the decision to follow them up to the next grade level. Once they were back together, they were able to secure their funding and finish the project for their classmates.
Reflecting on the project, Ms. Miles says, “Ultimately, everything came together because our students didn’t give up on their vision, and they were willing to step out of their comfort zones in order to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I’d also like to note that this project would never have been possible without the unwavering support from our Superintendent, Melody Hackney, our Director of Operations, Patrick Barnes, and two amazing teachers, Berea Longwell and Ariel Absher-Esque. An additional shoutout to Eric White for his patience, flexibility, and guidance throughout the journey. They say it takes a village, and this project certainly did.”
When asked about the best part of the project she added, “In my opinion, the best part of the project was seeing the faces of the students playing on the playground for the first time, and my students asking when they could join their new friends on the new playground. The original intention was to design an area that would encourage inclusive play, but the unbelievable [now] seven- and eight-year-olds at our school created something even more incredible – an environment that prioritizes love, compassion, empathy, respect and equality.”
Well done students and staff of Harry E. James Elementary School. We are so thankful that you chose to include All Recreation and BCI Burke play equipment in this project, and we are so proud of the inclusive atmosphere you have created. You inspire us!