CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — Recess at Carl Junction schools will never be the same again this fall when students of all mobility levels will be able to play together on the district’s new all-inclusive playground.

The community celebrated the groundbreaking of the first phase of the project, called Power of Play, on Monday near the Carl Junction Primary 2-3 playground. Power of Play was launched two years ago by groups of Carl Junction teachers, staff and community members who saw a need for playgrounds that can be accessible to every child, regardless of physical capabilities.

Heather Linscheid, Power of Play project manager and occupational therapist for the school district, could only describe the ceremony as a “dream come true.” The groundbreaking drew at least 100 people, including sponsors and students who held up handmade signs thanking those who contributed to the undertaking.

“It’s a total dream for me,” she said. “It’s hard to keep my excitement down because it really is a celebration. Had I known in the beginning how much work was involved, it might’ve scared me a little bit, but to see it come to this point and everybody come together is just amazing.”

Linscheid told the story of one of her students who was unable to play with his friends during recess because he couldn't navigate his wheelchair through the mulched area of the playground. She helped him through the mulch, but he couldn't access any of the play equipment. She then discovered other students were experiencing similar problems, and the idea for Power of Play was born.

The three-phase project aims to renovate the three existing playground areas in the district to include rubber surfacing and play structures that are accessible to all students. The playgrounds are currently outfitted with mulch flooring and equipment that has stairs.

Construction on the first phase, which will impact more than 1,000 students in second through sixth grade, will officially begin May 24 and is slated for completion by Aug. 1. The playground will include equipment such as adaptive swings, a glider for wheelchairs and a double zipline with a bucket seat and safety harness.

'It's not just play'

The budget for this portion of the project is $515,837, and the group has raised 73% of its goal, which is funded by grants and private donations. Last year, Power of Play also received a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant.

“We submitted the grant application, and we were one of the top projects in the nation, and the community voted enough to keep us at that level,” Linscheid said. “It’s a small community, so when we were competing against some big cities, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Linscheid said Carl Junction students also have conducted fundraising efforts. Several students participated in a read-a-thon, while others sold their own Power of Play T-shirts.

“They all feel like they own it, and it’s really exciting because all of this is for them,” she said. “It’s been to fun to involve everybody.”

Tonya Nease, special education teacher at Carl Junction, told a story about one of her sixth-grade students who had difficulty writing. Recess was able to help with her motor skills, she said.

“Her handwriting was not legible at all,” Nease said. “It looked like scribbling from a 2-year-old. If we put her on a swing and let her swing for a few minutes, her handwriting was beautiful. We had to show people how much it changed because for some of these kids, it makes that big of a difference. It’s amazing how something so simple can make such a big difference in their lives. It looks like play to a lot of people, but it’s not just play.”

Fifth-graders Danny Wallace, 11, and Ti Moore, 12, said they’re both excited for the playground.

“I think it’s amazing because they’re building a new playground,” Danny said.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.