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STREATOR - A community effort is under way to replace the 20-year-old playground equipment at Oakland Park School with something that all 250 children can enjoy, including three students physically unable to use the traditional equipment there now.

The school's Parent-Teacher Organization has raised $10,000 of the $40,000 cost of the equipment. In order to make its goal of getting equipment by spring, the PTO is turning to local and national businesses.

"The response from parents so far has been terrific," said kindergarten teacher Rhonda Johnson. "But we're not able to collect nickels and make this happen. Now we need corporate sponsorship."

Play, despite a child's ability, "is vital to emotional, social and physical adjustment," added Johnson.

No child has ever come up to her and complained about being left out, but watching activities at recess makes it quickly apparent there is a problem, Johnson said.

The new playground would differ from traditional material by using ramps instead of steps with slopes at the appropriate grade for wheelchairs, panels for children to interact with and swings that can be used by disabled children. It also would have traditional equipment, such as slides.

"This is for all children," said Johnson, adding it would defeat the purpose of integrating disabled children by not having equipment that can be used by everyone.

Because the equipment is more expensive than traditional playground items, some districts at one time were able to apply for grants. Johnson said she didn't know if Streator ever applied for assistance.

"Playground equipment is built like a battleship," said Superintendent Ed Allen. "It's weather resistant, vandal resistant and everything else resistant and very, very expensive."

He lauded the PTO's goal of obtaining handicap accessible equipment.

"Every district I have been in of course had playground equipment, the vast majority of it is not accessible" he said.


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