Plans are underway for a unique, one of a kind handicapped playground in Wauseon. This community playground will be located at New Horizons Academy on the grounds of Sara’s Garden. New Horizon’s Academy is a non-chartered, nonprofit, public school that offers a holistic education for children with special learning needs.
The school offers an individualized approach helping each child reach his or her highest potential despite disabilities. The school which will be approaching its third year has experienced phenomenal growth, much by word of mouth. This upcoming school year, 62 children have already been registered, an increase from the mid-forties last school year. Many of the students have diagnoses of autism, but other conditions that this type of learning environment can benefit from include traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, orthopedic conditions, and multi-disabilities. Growth has spread from parents sharing with parents and even the children themselves sharing their personal success stories.
Kevin Stamm, Development Director of Sara’s Garden, shares, “It’s amazing to hear parents say their kids want to learn now.”
The school offers five types of programming including autism intervention, sensory integration, conductive education, academics, and the option of hyperbaric oxygen therapy at Sara’s Garden for a fee. Conductive education is a comprehensive educational approach that originated in Hungary by Dr. Andras Peto. This type of education integrates medical knowledge with the child’s personality using a social and psychological and educational approach. New Horizons presently has two trained professionals from Hungary in this type of learning.
David Burkholder, School Administrator of New Horizons Academy and past principal of Wauseon Elementary School, is passionate about the mission and philosophy of New Horizons. Although Burkholder strongly believes in traditional public education, he also recognizes the benefit of New Horizons unique individualized, sensory learning environment in reaching children who otherwise experience sensory overload in the typical classroom.
Burkholder affirms, “I believe in what we are doing here. The environment here is helping kids. I am blessed to be a part of this.”
The school utilizes the same core standards of traditional public school but structures the learning in a different format and environment. The approach is more individualized for each child. The school is offered to children free of charge through state scholarships, either through the Autism Scholarship Program or Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship. They work with each child’s IEP, individual education plan, in meeting and often exceeding individual goals that have been set.
Although the school offers specialized educational and social opportunities that are unique, they currently lack a true outdoor play area for children. Recess time consists of Big Wheels and trikes in the parking lot. “We need a playground. A parking lot is not a playground,” Burkholder expresses.
The barriers to the creation of such a playground are rooted in dollars. Stamm shares, “Unfortunately, when the word handicapped is attached to the word playground, the dollar amount increases immensely to accommodate for special design and modifications and the rubber surface.” So far, the three quotes have come in approximately between $225,000 to $380,000. “You can’t secure a loan on something there is no direct monetary return on investment,” Stamm states.
Together, Sara’s Garden and New Horizons Academy are working with the Rotary Foundation, the Wauseon and Archbold Rotary, and Lions International. They also hope to work with the Ronald MacDonald Foundation. They are working with some private foundations as well. They have met with the Fulton County Commissioners on a grant as well as the City of Wauseon City Council for a revolving loan grant from the city.
Fundraisers are also being planned including a Casino Night sponsored by Don’s Automotive in November. Recently, the Drive for Hope Charity golf outing raised $15,000 in funds. Of the amount that needs raised, they currently have around $50,000.
The playground design will be in a POD system where sections are organized by shapes and colors. For instance, swings will be in one area and may be green in a circular set-up. The addition of grass between the PODs adds the element of additional sensory integration. Both Stamm and Burkholder believe the POD system will carry the learning from the classroom to the playground.
The handicapped playground will not have ramps but will be truly designed with handicap features such as platform swings and slides built into a mound on ground level. Not only will the playground be safe, but it will promote independence for the children which Burkholder believes is instrumental in their personal confidence and growth. Stamm affirms, “Kids can take ownership.”
Through word of mouth, they envision the news of the playground spreading to surrounding communities and beyond. The playground will not only benefit the students of the school but the community as it will be a public playground open 365 days a week, 24 hours a day. Stamm firmly believes that the playground will bring families to the community. “It is an investment in the community. People will come to Wauseon and Fulton County and shop and eat. It will spur economic growth within the community.”
The hope is to begin work on the playground before the start of the school year. Burkholder states, “The contractors haven taken this project to heart. They know it’s for the kids.” Because of the POD design, the playground can be constructed in phases. For a child who has never experienced the joy of sliding or feeling the breeze from a swing, this playground will open a whole new world.
Community donations are welcome. For more information on how you can help, contact Kevin Stamm at 419-335-7272 extension 202.