West Philly school for blind, visually impaired gets inclusive playground

Charlotte Reese
February 02, 2020 - 1:56 pm
Overbrook Educational Center playground

Caroline Robinson/Overbrook Educational Center

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — About one-third of students at West Philly’s Overbrook Educational Center are blind or visually impaired. So when Meredith Foote became the principal in 2014, she had one goal: create an inclusive playground for all students.

Students and teachers used to have to walk a couple blocks away to a neighborhood park for recess, since OEC didn’t have one. But if there were too many people, they’d have to cut it short or leave altogether.

“Recess time was cut down significantly, but every day I took my kids to the park because I wanted them to play,” Foote recalled.

OEC recently added equipment for all students to have fun at recess, like Braille writing, specialized grips and musical instruments.

“Talking about it gets me emotional,” Foote admitted, “because this is really a dream come true. … Every child deserves a safe, inclusive place to play.”

Overbrook Educational Center playground
Caroline Robinson/Overbrook Educational Center

Overbrook Educational Center playground
Caroline Robinson/Overbrook Educational Center

Through the help of the School District of Philadelphia, OEC received a grant from the Hess Family Foundation, which turned that dream into a reality. 

Foote said a committee of students and parents were involved in every step of the way. 

“We had different vendors come in and they chose who they wanted to build the playground and what equipment, and they created the entire visual of what they wanted,” she said. “That was really great for our kids to see that vision come to life.”

Rachael Fennel, a parent partner at OEC, said her two children are looking forward to warmer temperatures, even though February’s chill is not holding them back.

“They are definitely looking forward to getting out there, stretching their legs and just getting there with all their friends,” she said.

Anton Austin, another parent partner, said this playground makes recess extra special for his youngest daughter, who is in fourth grade. 

“What you don’t always get to see is when the whole of the school is playing together. She had one or two friends that I did not necessarily see her able to play and engage with them the way she can now,” he said.

This will be OEC’s first spring with the new inclusive playground. It was unveiled in October.