LEOMINSTER — A recent ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the opening of the new playground at Johnny Appleseed Elementary, a place where students and community children of all ages are welcome.
“This playground is an all-inclusive playground, meaning all young people can safely access the structure in a variety of ways,” said Assistant Principal Katie Gingras at the Nov. 28 event.
Principal Bevin Tapply spoke to the crowd at the ribbon cutting and talked about the playground that was designed to welcome everyone.
“Today is an exciting day because the official opening of our playground symbolizes something so special for our whole school community – a play space that all students can access,” Tapply said. “This playground will be a great community feature here in North Leominster. Today, we dedicate this playground to the past, present, and future students of Johnny Appleseed.”
She went on to say she wanted to “especially thank” PTO Co-Presidents Sarah Hall and Karen Pabst “for making sure this playground happened.”
“They organized and met with the playground company to create this structure that we now have,” Tapply said of the dedicated duo. “They prepared a big presentation for the school committee in hopes of getting approval from the city to fund and build this playground.
Besides school staff and students, attendees included Leominster Public Schools Superintendent Paula Deacon, Mayor Dean Mazzarella, members of the school committee and Johnny Appleseed (JA) PTO, and former JA Principal Patricia King, who retired this past spring.
“We need to thank Superintendent Deacon who supported our plan for an all-inclusive playground, which will bring years of fun and activity for our whole student population,” Tapply said. “Thank you to the school committee, who unanimously said yes. They said yes to fostering your social skills and expanding your imaginations.”
Before first grader Jennifer Moise cut the ribbon to open what is known as the “red dragon” playground, Tapply thanked King, “who supported this plan as well,” and dedicated the buddy bench to her.
“Mrs. King…values kindness, friendship, and showing respect to one another each day,” Tapply said. “The buddy bench is a safe place to sit when you need a buddy.”
JA Assistant Principal Katie Gingras said they are thrilled to have the playground completed and that they are grateful to the City of Leominster for covering the $235,000 cost.
“Having this playground project completed means that all students in our school will be able to enjoy new, imaginative play with their peers,” she said. “We hope they can enjoy a few weeks of fun before winter hits.”
She said they have plans to use the playground for school events such as Ninja Warrior Night and the Kindergarten Summer Social.
Gingras communicated that when they use the term inclusive to describe the playground, which still includes the iconic red dragon structure, they mean that “there’s something for everyone.”
“Inclusive means that it is an engaging, sensory-rich environment that provides the right amount of challenges for all students,” she said. “The play experiences meet a variety of needs and interests. Some of the specialized items include the roller slide which eliminates any static feedback for students with cochlear implants. The music station allows for sensory play. The variety of rope climbing obstacles are challenging and simplistic depending on needs. The playground is spaced out so adults can also participate in play with their children. The playground has a sign language board and visual talker board for students who are non-verbal and wish to communicate their playground preferences.”
When asked what the reaction to the new playground has been, Gingras said “the students and staff are beyond excited about the new structure.”
“Because of the spacing and the addition of more structural pieces, an entire grade level can play together in one space with room to play safely,” she said. “It’s an exciting day to be a JA student!”