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Special needs playground completed at Cherry Valley school

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News from Polson School District No. 23

POLSON — Our Polson community has a new playground. Local preschool children with physical and developmental disabilities that limit their ability to access traditional playground equipment can now enjoy an inclusive playground. This “special needs” playground has just been completed at Cherry Valley Elementary School. The playground is designed for children from three to five years old and features playground equipment such as pieces designed to provide exciting sensory experiences for children who need a lot of vestibular and proprioceptive input, while other equipment is designed to support children with sensory processing disorders who might need a calming environment. 

Cherry Valley special education teacher Bonne Petersen expressed her appreciation for a generous community during a grand opening ceremony held Oct. 7. Having taught at Cherry Valley for nearly 18 years, “I’ve dreamt about something like this for a really long time,” Petersen said. “I’m humbled and in awe of this community … Thank you very, very much.”

The new inclusive preschool playground is not only for the special needs preschool students attending Cherry Valley, but it is also available outside of school hours, evenings, weekends, and in the summer to all Mission Valley and Lake County residents as well as to visitors and tourists passing through the City of Polson. One unique feature of the playground is the poured ground cover which takes the place of customary wooden chips so that students with wheelchairs and walkers can have access to playground equipment. Another special feature is open slides rather than enclosed plastic tubular slides that can destroy cochlear implants of children who are deaf or hearing impaired. Of course, another obvious advantage to having open slides is that adults can see and have access to the children.

The major playground costs included purchase of special playground equipment pieces and the special wheelchair-friendly ground cover. Other expenses were installation of a fence, purchase of a shed for bike storage, and buying several planter boxes. Even though no Polson School District No. 23 funds were used in this project, many different grant submittals were reviewed and approved before submittal by Superintendents Rex Weltz and Tom DiGiallonardo. And, under the guidance of Tim Berg, the district’s special services director, and Bonnie Petersen, Cherry Valley teacher, $120,000 in playground funds were raised in about 15 months. Monies were received from outside sources such as MDU Resources Foundation, Gallagher Foundation, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Treacy Foundation, Brondum Foundation, and Headwaters Foundation. The entire Polson community recognized the need for this inclusive playground and reacted accordingly. Major local contributors included Greater Polson Community Foundation, Glacier Bank, First Interstate Bank, SKC Tribal Council, Donna Jean Rolfson Trust, Century 21 Big Sky Real Estate, and Montana Taco Bell; further, many other local businesses and dozens of private residents gave generously. This playground is a tremendous addition to local playgrounds, and the Polson School District will continue to provide annual maintenance of this playground as well as all school district grounds.

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