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A new playground at this Coquitlam school promises fun for kids of all needs

The new playground for 60 Coquitlam young students was designed by Swing Time Distributors of North Vancouver.
Adam Elliott gets a push from Felix Harries on the dish swing that's part of a new accessible playground at the Greater Heights Learning Academy in Coquitlam.

A new playground at the Greater Heights Learning Academy will help break down barriers between kids with special needs and others.

But more importantly, says Adam Elliott, one of 60 neurodiverse students attending the K-12 school tucked into the trees in west Coquitlam at the base of Burnaby Mountain, "it's overall a lot of fun."

The equipment, designed by North Vancouver-based Swing Time Distributors, consists of a dish swing for communal play, a stomach swing, a marble maze, various spinners and a pair of buddy benches when a child just wants to hang out with a friend. Its acquisition was made possible by grants from the BCAA playground program and Variety BC as well as the school's own fundraising efforts.

And since it was installed in the summer to supplement two, more traditional, playgrounds already in place, it's been a hit, said Greater Heights' principal Kathleen Jeffrey.

She said the school worked with an occupational therapist to determine what equipment would work best for its unique population with a wide range of abilities and comfort levels for activity and socializing.

Jeffrey said it’s important all kids have equal opportunities when it comes to play. Figuring out how to get there, though, isn’t as easy as it might first sound.

"You don't know what you need in a playground until you put one together."

Jeffrey said the dish swing is strong enough to allow kids to pile on and cooperate with others for pushing, while the stomach swing is favoured by children who may not be comfortable with sitting up on a traditional swing. The marble maze encourages sensory-rich play and the spinners never let up once they’re moving.

The idea, Jeffrey said, is to "give all kids the ability to participate in play."

To give weight to those words, the playground isn’t just for the exclusive use of Greater Heights’ students. When school is out, anyone in the community is welcome to give the gear a whirl or a twirl.

Felix Harries, another student, said the playground helps put him on the same footing as his peers.

"Special needs kids want to feel like everyone else," he said. "We don't want to be the 'others.' It's like a rock to our heart."

Fostering that sense of equality is exactly why Variety got involved, said Anna Polden, a philanthropy officer with the organization that advocates for inclusion and accessibility.

"Fun isn't a one-off experience,” she said. "Kids should be able to have fun everyday and we can make sure it’s available for everyone.

Meanwhile, Adam and Felix milk their bonus time demonstrating the equipment to visitors for all its worth.

"I like the wind blowing on me," said Adam of his high-flying ride on the dish swing powered by Felix's pushes.

"I feel free."

Craft fair to raise funds

Greater Heights Learning Academy is hosting a special Thanksgiving craft fair on Oct. 7 to help raise money for special needs kids as well as that helps provide school supplies to low-income families.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will feature more than 50 local artisans, including some of the school's own talented students.

Greater Heights is located at 550 Thompson Ave.