College kids make play a reality for elementary school students

Students at the John Gates Elementary School in Aurora, Illinois started the 2016-2017 school year with a brand new inclusive playground, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Benedictine University undergraduates.


The playground, Gateway to Laugher, was a community project initiated by Aimee Ford, a recipient of Benedictine University’s Arthur J. Schmitt Future Leaders Scholarship. Under Ford’s guidance, a Benedictine support committee was formed to help manage the playground project. Students wanted to create a place of joy and laughter that would allow children with disabilities the opportunity to play alongside their peers. The team recognized it would require a considerable amount of funding from donations and sponsors to bring this idea to fruition and successfully raised more than $20,000 toward the project.

“Our project had a slow start, but we learned so much throughout the entire process,” Ford said. “The faculty of Benedictine University helped fuel our passion with encouragement and mentorship throughout the project. We are humbly grateful for all the members of the surrounding communities who came together to support the Gateway to Laughter playground.”

The inclusive playground features fully accessible equipment that encourages play for all. The space also is home to a permanent butterfly garden, outdoor learning lab, multisensory play stations and a Buddy Bench, designed to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground. The school’s blacktop was also resurfaced to complete murals and hop scotch areas.

Ford credits Playworld employees for helping select equipment and for their extensive knowledge of inclusive play.

“Their ability to think outside the box allowed for the careful selection of all pieces of playground equipment being installed,” Ford said.

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