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Jan. 29, 2022 | Saturday
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With inclusive playground, no child gets left out at Crossroads
Megan Dyck, Dylan Dietsch, Brooke Whyte and Felix Vollmer gathered to celebrate the opening of their school's inclusive playground. (Evan Saunders)

Crossroads Public School is entering a new phase, one where no child ever gets left out of the fun.

The Virgil school last Thursday opened its new inclusive playground, one designed so children with accessibility needs can play alongside their peers.

“It’s so nice and super inclusive so everyone can play together now, which we love,” said Crossroads student Felix Vollmer, 12.

“It’s so fun,” student Megan Dyck, 12, exclaimed.

The kids at Crossroads were excited to be able to include all their classmates in their play from now on.

“We used to hate seeing that we couldn’t play with Dylan sometimes or even Megan or anyone, and we would hate that,” Felix said.

Crossroads student Dylan Dietsch uses a wheelchair and one of the additions to the playground is a large boat-like structure with a ramp leading up to it. Dylan said it is his favourite.

Once inside the boat, there’s a special spot carved out just for kids who use wheelchairs to sit so they can get in on the fun with everybody else. Kids rock the boat back and forth and make believe they are sailing on the high seas.

The students themselves work to accommodate their fellow classmates. At the opening of the playground "O Canada" was played and students performed the whole anthem in sign language.

And they do that every single morning for Dylan, principal Kate Fish said.

“For us it’s amazing that it’s not just an accessible piece, it’s also an inclusive piece,” said Dylan’s father Matthew Dietsch.

“Everyone always thinks accessible and inclusive are the same thing but on a piece like this kids can play on either side of kids with disabilities so it really makes it special.”

Dietsch said seeing the inclusive playground unveiled at Crossroads assured him he made the right choice as a father enrolling his son at the school.

“The whole school has such a neat buzz about it as far as inclusivity goes,” he said.

“Looking back at it, we couldn’t have made a better decision. It’s so cool being able to go around town and kids come up to us and say, ‘Hey Dyl, how’s your day going?’ ”

“You don’t always get that if you’re in a different city.”

Along with the playground designed to allow inclusive play for Crossroads students there is a “buddy bench." If a student sits on the buddy bench, other students know they are looking for someone to hang out with.

The push to create the inclusive playground was started by Amber Dyck, whose daughter Megan is a Grade 7 student at Crossroads. She has a rare genetic disorder affecting her joints and spine as well as mild cognitive difficulties.

“How do you take these challenges and make school work for your child? How do we provide authentic integration in our schools and communities?” Dyck asked the crowd gathered around the playground.

“I think that the building of this accessible playground exemplifies the answer.”

The playground's construction was a collaborative effort. Together with Dietsch, Dyck started fundraising to make it happen. 

Originally, Dyck hoped to build a single inclusive structure on the playground, until she approached the Virgil Business Association.

“They encouraged with their words and finances to dream bigger and our original idea of a single piece of accessible equipment became a full, new accessible playground,” she said.

The facility cost about $115,000 to build. It was completed in March 2020, but was unable to officially open until now because of the pandemic. 

The fundraising team led by Dyck and Dietsch raised some $40,000 for the project through the school's Home, Garden and Craft Show. The Virgil Business Association contributed another $40,000.

More than a dozen private donors helped raise a further $40,000 for the playground. Fish thanked Niagara Inflatables & Games Inc., Peninsula Flooring and Emerald Retirement Residence, to name a few.

"I have so much hope for my daughter and her future when I look at this project and all of you amazing people who have made this happen. I wanted to remind her of how much goodness and generosity and love there is in this world,” Dyck said.

She said she had “tears in my eyes” the first time she saw Megan play with friends on the playground.

The playground “tells the story of what teamwork, creativity, compassion and perseverance can build,” she said.

“Through these things the barriers to inclusion will continue to fall.”

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