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Elli Fielland is among the Hardin Park students who could benefit from playground improvements designed to improve accessibility. Photo courtesy of Cyndi Fielland.

Originally published: 2013-02-05 15:48:39
Last modified: 2013-02-05 15:48:39

Hardin Park playground gets $5,000 grant

by Staff Reports

Hardin Park School has been awarded $5,000 grant by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation to help the school fund an upgraded playground accessible to children with physical disabilities.

“We are extremely pleased to receive this support from the BCBSNC Foundation,” said Hardin Park Principal Mary Smalling. “Our Parent Teacher Organization and our school have been working for 10 years to raise money to make our playground accessible to all of our students, and this grant is the single largest source of funds we’ve received in all that time. It’s a significant step toward our goal.”

Hardin Park’s campaign for an accessible playground got another boost recently from the school’s decision to encourage contributions to the playground fund instead of holiday gifts to teachers and other employees.

Nearly 80 donations were received in honor of teachers, school administrators, teacher assistants, school support staff and students. But even with the recent round of donations and the BCBSNC Foundation grant, the school still needs more than $100,000 to reach its goal.

The importance of an accessible playground for Hardin Park is heightened by the fact that the school serves students with the most severe disabilities from throughout the school system. With an enrollment of 791 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, Hardin Park is also the largest school in Watauga County other than Watauga High School.

“We place a lot of emphasis on having an inclusive school environment at Hardin Park,” Smalling said. “And we take a lot of pride in how our teachers and students help everyone feel part of the school. We want that feeling to extend to recess, and having a more accessible playground is an important part of achieving that goal. That makes us especially grateful for this grant, and we’re hopeful that more organizations and individuals will be moved to contribute to the effort.”

Among the children who might benefit from more contributions is 9-year-old old Elli Fielland. Her mother, Cyndi Fielland, said that having appropriate equipment on the playground would be wonderful for Elli, who loves to be outside.

“Elli sits off to the side at recess and watches the other children play because there is a lack of equipment that is appropriate to her abilities,” Fielland said. “A new playground would be very exciting for us, because it would give her access to developmentally appropriate equipment. Above all, it will promote a positive environment for interaction among students of all abilities.”

Anyone interested in contributing to Hardin Park’s effort to complete a more accessible playground are invited to contact Principal Mary Smalling at (828) 264-7190.

“There’s been a lot of attention paid to the idea of leaving no child left behind in academic terms,” Smalling said. “That’s important, but we can’t stop there. If we really want to help all children achieve their full potential, we need our playgrounds as well as our classrooms to be places where no child is left behind."