Taking a ride with students on an Oodle Swing. Giving a colleague a twirl in the Global Motion. Up and over the Portal Climber.
You couldn’t wipe the smile off Rachna Singh’s face Tuesday morning in Vernon.
B.C.’s education minister was on hand to officially open the new accessible and inclusive playground at Alexis Park Elementary School May 16, then proceeded to join students in playing on the new equipment.
“I could spend the whole day here,” laughed Singh, after sharing the Oodle Swing with Vernon Monashee MLA, NDP colleague Harwinder Sandhu, who received a push around the Global Motion equipment from the minister.
“Playgrounds are excellent for our kids’ physical and mental health, and are spaces where they can be themselves and express their fun-loving nature. Our government is helping communities throughout the province with better access to modern playground equipment that will benefit everyone.”
Thousands more students will soon have access to new, safe and accessible playgrounds that support play and health as the province continues to support the Playground Equipment Program (PEP) for a sixth year.
This year, the PEP will provide $5 million toward 25 new school playgrounds across 25 school districts. The province, said Singh, has increased the amount of funding that school districts will receive per playground to $195,000. Playgrounds are expected to be designed, built and installed over the next year.
The program significantly reduces parent-led fundraising that was previously needed to help build playgrounds.
The playground at Alexis Park Elementary was actually constructed in 2020.
“Alexis Park students love their new playground and we have seen positive changes in mental health and engagement since it has been completed,” said acting principal Cordell Ware.
Singh and Sandhu were joined on the Oodle Swing by students Brody Panter-Stokes, Lexa Meise, and Callandra Salhus-Grant. Panter-Stokes is a Grade 5 student who has mobility issues so the new playground for him is, in a word, “awesome.” And it’s an upgrade from the old playground.
“Oh yeh, it (playground) definitely makes a difference. It’s pretty awesome,” he said.
“It’s really fun, really cool,” said Meise, a Grade 6 student who is a big fan of the monkey bars. “This playground is more accessible for all students.”
Fellow monkey bar lover Salhus-Grant, who is in Grade 4, loves the new playground but…“There should be more monkey bars. I really like monkey bars.”
Playgrounds promote physical activity, while encouraging students to share and develop conflict-resolution skills. They also provide students with opportunities to learn new things, reduce anxiety, improve focus, increase attention span, and enhance gross-motor, social, emotional and sensory development.
“Playing is essential to every child’s mental and physical health,” said Sandhu, whose son is an Alexis Park alumnus. “The Alexis Park community’s playground has provided a safe place where children and families can play, create adventures and grow together for many more years to come.”
Joining the festivities Tuesday morning were Grade 7 emcees Allison Sanchez and Gabe Teeples, Vernon School District board vice-chair Tom Williamson, the Alexis Park Grade 4-6 choir with teacher Tobi Huggins conducting, and the school’s Parent Advisory Council chair Laura Tifenbach, who said the entire community will benefit from the accessible, inclusive playground.
“Our children get to play on excellent equipment,” she said. “It is great to hear them laugh and wonderful to see them all having a great time. It has become a place for the community to come together and enjoy play.”