For the first time in his life, nine-year-old Jagger Anderson was able to join his friends on a playground.
Jagger, a student at Mattie McCullough Elementary School, has 1p36 deletion syndrome which keeps him to a wheelchair.
Two years ago his friends at school wrote letters to the vice-principal saying they were worried Jagger couldn’t play with them on the school’s playground.
The school then teamed up with the Rotary Club in Red Deer to build a barrier-free, all-inclusive playground. Jagger finally got to play on that playground Saturday morning, when it officially opened next to the school.
“It means the world to me,” said Sharlee Anderson, Jagger’s mother. “The independence that he has now and involvement he’s having with his friends is everything we hoped for.”
Sharlee Anderson said she was “blown away” when she first heard her son’s friends wanted to have him on the playground with them.
Watching him play with his friends on the new playground put a smile on her face, she added.
“I’ve never had to let him go, so I’m a little on edge today, but I know he’s just fine. He’s doing exactly what we’ve always dreamt for him to do,” said Sharlee Anderson.
Nicole Hollman’s nine-year-old daughter Falan has Rett Syndrome, which keeps her in a wheelchair and causes brain function to regress, affecting everything from learning and speech to movement and breathing.
Like Jagger, Falan’s friend expressed concerns over how she couldn’t play with them at recess.
“I was moved when her friends and Jagger’s friends came up with this idea,” Nicole Hollman said. “It’s overwhelming and something we never expected when Falan started going to school here.”
Now when Nicole brings Falan and her son Max to the playground, they can all have fun together, she said.
“When we used come to the park it was usually Falan sitting on my lap trying to sqeeze into a small swing while Max is running around and playing,” she said.
Grant Burchnall, Rotary Club member and chair of the Access for All Barrier-Free Playscape board, said there is more will be added to the playground. Phase two of the playground construction is hoped to be complete by next fall, Burchnall said.
A merry-go-round and a three-bay zipline – both barrier-free – are a couple of additions to come.
“We want to have at least half the items barrier-free,” said Burchnall.
Lisa Spicer, Mattie McCullough Elementary School principal, said this playground is for everyone, not just students.
“We’re really, really happy with not just how it’s turned out for our kids with exceptional needs, but for our whole entire community,” she said.
Working with the Rotary Club was a perfect partnership, as both wanted to raise the money to get this playground built, she added.
“We really wanted to have a place where all the kids could play together in a barrier-free and inclusive setting.”