Funding Secured for Lakeland Special Needs Playground

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L to R: Gianna Mandara; Lindsey McGann, Special Education Supervisor; Dr. Frank Yanoti, Assistant Principal; County Executive George Latimer; Assistant Superintendent Dr. Steve Rappleyea; Margaret Rogers, Lakeland School District Physical Therapist; Anna Mandara, Lakeland School District parent advocate; Senator Pete Harckham; Denise Kness, Vice President, Lakeland Board of Education; Angela Conti, Trustee, Lakeland Board of Education: Becky Burfeind, Trustee, Lakeland Board of Education; Jacqueline Wood, Principal

State Senator Peter Harckham (D/40th District) announced Friday he had secured $25,000 for the Lakeland School District to purchase and install an indoor playground for special needs students in the Van Cortlandtville Elementary School gymnasium.

“It’s deeply rewarding to see our funding being put to such good use for a population of special needs schoolchildren who require specially-designed, daily physical activity in order to thrive,” Harckham said at a press conference attended by faculty, administrators, parents, students and Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

“The Lakeland School District, clearly believes, as I do, that we must use every means possible to educate children with attention, focus and sensory needs, so they can ultimately lead independent, fulfilling lives,” Harckham added.

Margaret Rogers, physical therapist for the school district, reached out to Harckham about the need for the playground in January. She said the new equipment would be utilized by more than 50 students in kindergarten through fifth grade who are classified in the autism spectrum.

“They benefit from movement. Pulling and pushing can be very calming,” Rogers explained. “What we see here is children are very welcomed.”

Van Cortlandtville houses the majority of the district’s elementary school-aged students who are in the Aspire Program and require a very small student to teacher ratio in response to their special needs. The school has at least one self-contained class in each grade for children who present with attention, focus and sensory needs that are best met with movement that involves deep pressure and heavy work to calm and regulate their sensory systems. The indoor playground will allow these students to access this type of movement on a daily basis, regardless of the weather, helping them build strength, modulate their emotional state and maintain focus, as well as have fun with their peers.

The four or more pieces of indoor equipment the school will purchase will include a cargo net climber, monkey bars and circle steppers. All of the equipment can be folded or raised out of the way so that the gym remains available for night and weekend use by community groups and for the remainder of the student body, which may want to use the gym for basketball and other activities.

“It is such an honor for Van Cortlandtville to be selected for the Bullet Aid grant by Senator Harckham. We are humbled and honored to accept this on behalf of the Lakeland Central School District as well as the students and staff at Van Cort,” said Jacqueline Woodruff, Van Cortlandtville Elementary School principal. “Words can’t express our gratitude for supporting not only our special needs population but also the general student health and wellness for many years to come. Senator Harckham will have touched the lives of many children by giving us this opportunity.”

Anna Mandara, a Lakeland School District Parent Advocate and mother of a special needs student, talked about the importance the playground would have on students who need it most.

I was so happy to hear that the Senator gave Van Cortlandtville this grant for the indoor playground for special needs kids. It is so important for our children to be able to get as much physical activity as possible to build strength and to help them focus,” she said. “As the mom of a special needs child, I am so grateful for the generous donation. Thank you for not giving up on our kids.”

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