It all started with a simple question.
Students at Mission’s West Heights Community Elementary School wanted to know why their friend, Kaitlyn Sidhu, couldn’t play with them on the playground.
That question has transformed into a school-wide fundraising project to build an inclusive playground.
Kaitlyn, 11, is Grade 5 student who has been going to the school since she was in kindergarten.
Due to health issues, she has spent her entire life in a wheelchair.
Her mother, Amanda, said Kaitlyn has multiple medical conditions, but basically it’s a neurological condition that confines her to the chair.
When she first heard about what her daughter’s classmates were doing, Amanda was taken aback by their compassion.
“It all started with the kids. It brings tears to my eyes every time I talk about it. It’s amazing that these kids thought of this and understand that they want to raise money so all kids can play on the playground, not just them,” she said.
Melissa Clark, Kaitlyn’s education assistant, has been doing one-on-one work with her for the past two years.
“Last year, a lot of the kids said, ‘You know, it’s not fair that Kaitlyn doesn’t have anything to play on,’ ” Clark said.
At that time, the school parent advisory committee was asking staff at the school if they had any ideas on what to spend funds on.
The playground seemed like the perfect idea.
Eventually teachers had students write journals of why they thought Kaitlyn – and another student, Richard, who is also in a wheelchair – deserve to play in the playground.
Clark and two students went to the PAC meeting and the students read from the journals.
“Literally, we had tears from some of the parents, because it was so heartwarming,” Clark said.
“They (students) felt that it wasn’t fair that she always had to sit back and watch.”
An inclusive playground is a more accessible version of a regular school playground, with ramps, smooth surfaces and some specialized equipment.
“We just want something where all the kids can play together, whether they are in a wheelchair or have crutches. Everyone should play together.
“Just the fact that the students came up with the idea and want to continue, it’s amazing.”
The fundraising campaign began late last school year and has already raised about $8,500. However, now that a new year has begun, students and staff are ready to get back to work.
School principal Mikel Brogan said the goal this year is to raise $50,000 and then an additional $50,000 next year.
“The students have been spearheading the fundraising with freezie sales and bake sales. The kids really want to see this happen. It’s heartwarming to see such compassion,” Brogan said.
On Friday, the school is hosting a water balloon toss.
“Essentially, kids buy balloons, fill them up with water and then throw them at the teachers,” he explained.
So far, more than 700 balloons have been sold.
Brogan said while the students and the PAC are looking for ways to raise funds, the community as a whole is also supporting the campaign.
He said they are trying to become the first school in Mission to have an inclusive playground.
“We are going to make this happen.”
Amanda has also started a GoFundMe page so community members can donate if they choose to. You can visit the site at gofundme.com/f/inclusive-playground.
Angus Wilson, Mission’s superintendent of schools, said the board of education is supportive of inclusive playgrounds and, as they go forward, playgrounds will be ever more inclusive.
However, funding is an issue.
“A playground is a $100,000 item, and historically we never got any funding for playgrounds,” said Wilson, adding there were exceptions when the government would suddenly announce some funding on a random basis.
He said things are a little different now.
“The current government has put in a cycle of sending money to school districts for playgrounds and, as that money comes on line for us, we will put it into improving playgrounds in an inclusive fashion.”
It’s a process that will have to occur over time.
“If we were to convert all of our playgrounds, or add on to all of our playgrounds right now, you are easily over $1 million,” Wilson said.