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Glen Lake 5th graders seek support for inclusive playground

The students surpassed their goal after an anonymous $200,000 donation, but they're still fundraising to make the entire playground area accessible.

MINNETONKA, Minn — At a small elementary school of 460 students, eight students use a wheelchair. Now one classroom is working to get a new playground for all.

At first glance, the Glen Lake playground seems inclusive and accessible. A ramp was installed about a decade ago and there are a couple of adaptive swings. Plus, students of all abilities play together at recess.

Yet developmental cognitive disabilities teacher Sher U-F says the playground isn't designed for all kids.

"All that a student can do who uses a wheelchair is go on this little ramped section here unless we literally carry students to other sections," U-F explained. "Lifting someone, it's not always so cool. Especially the older a child gets, it can be degrading."

Parent Kelly Becker speaks highly of the school's care for her eight-year-old son, Dempsey, who lost oxygen at birth, leading to brain damage. Indoors, he spends time in a "motor room" with beanbags and swings.

"To send a kid who can't communicate back to you, just to know that they're so happy and in the right spot … it's amazing to feel good about your kid being at school," Becker said.

Still Becker agrees with her son's teacher, U-F, that improvements are needed outside.

"We seek out all these adaptive playgrounds," Becker said. "You do have to drive far … That would absolutely be the dream. For every park to be set up where wheelchairs can get up onto the equipment."

Little by little, the dream is coming true. At least, it is for this Hopkins Public School. Teacher Betsy Julien's fifth grade class is raising $300,000 for a new accessible, inclusive playground. The playground would include a swing and merry-go-round. The goal is to begin construction in spring and open by fall. 

"My classroom overlooks the playground, so every day I watch the playground and I watch those discrepancies," Julien said.

For Julien, it's personal. Her nine-year-old son Luke attends the school and, like Dempsey, uses a wheelchair.

Credit: KARE 11
Glen Lake Elementary student Luke Julien with a sign celebrating playground donations.

"Sometimes when you have a child with disabilities, you don't know how long their life is gonna last and we could wait for three or four years until our district finds those funds but for me the urgency is now," Julien said.

To ask for funding, her fifth graders have been cold-calling businesses and knocking on doors. They also held a coin drive at school and their efforts are leading to big checks.

Tuesday, BMW donated $10,000.

Credit: KARE 11
BMW donated $10,000 Tuesday to the Glen Lake playground project.

"Basically just to help them out and, you know, 'cause we care about those students here 'cause Glen Lake's a caring community," fifth grader Mimi Priere said.

The students surpassed their goal after an anonymous $200,000 donation, but they're still fundraising to make the entire playground area accessible.

There are now three ways to give:

  • Checks can be made out to Glen Lake PTO and mailed to Glen Lake Elementary School at 4801 Woodridge Rd, Minnetonka, 55343
  • Glen Lake PTO website
  • GoFundMe

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