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Building a Better Playground a Mission for Stall Brook Teacher Sensory-Friendly Touch-a-Truck Fundraiser May 14th for Inclusive Playground

This little boy, a student at Stall Brook Elementary School, is in his happy place when he’s in this swing, but he can’t get to it without a lot of help. Special education teacher Hallie Glassman has embarked on a four-year mission to build a better, inclusive playground for him and other students who encounter obstacles to play. Its first fundraiser will be a Touch-a-Truck event May 14th at Bellingham Memorial School.

By Judith Dorato O’Gara
Not all of Stall Brook Elementary’s 250 students can enjoy its current playground, and special education teacher Hallie Glassman, has a solution – to build an inclusive playground. 
The idea was hatched when Cerah, an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) technician who works with a boy in Glassman’s class approached her about trying to add a ramp to get the boy to an adaptive swing.
 “This is a sweet boy who absolutely loves to go on the swing at recess. We have one swing bucket he can sit in, but unfortunately, the way our playground is set up, it is very challenging to bring his wheelchair close enough to the swing to safely transfer him,” says Glassman. “He’s close to 100 pounds, so we have to move his wheelchair to (the one side without posts) and maneuver him over the woodchips to bring him to the adaptive swing.” Aside from the swing, says Glassman, “there’s nothing for him to do except be pushed around the blacktop.”
She and the ABA technicians then discussed various other play obstacles. For example, children who engage in pica always need an adult by their side when around wood chips.
“It really does limit them,” says Glassman. “We see typically developing peers and the way they interact with each other. Their interactions change as soon as an adult comes by. We really want to make sure (all) our students have that opportunity to interact with their peers in as natural a way as possible.”
Glassman consulted a playground designer and was told the Stall Brook playground was no longer up to code. Due to a grandfather clause, if a permanent change was to be made, the whole playground would need to be updated to meet current regulations.
“I naively said, well, let’s just build a new playground, and no one told me that I was crazy, and now it’s April, and we’re doing it!” Glassman explains. “The inclusive playground concept has blossomed over the last five years. If you don’t think about these things, (i.e..,) if you don’t need a different surface option, then it doesn’t occur to you.”
The cost will be substantial, ranging from $149,000 to $206,000 for some of the inclusive designs, which incorporate rubber surfacing, ground-based activities, ramp structures, and wheelchair accessibility. Rep. Soter advised Glassman to create a 501 c3 organization for the project, in order to apply for grants. The teacher created a website,, and presented it to her PTO, asking for support. She’s also consulted school officials, Bellingham conservation agents and DPW and the school committee.
One parent at that PTO meeting, Manny Toscano, came forth with the project’s first (of many) fundraisers, a kickoff Touch-a-Truck event at Bellingham Memorial School from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Graduating Seniors! Save the Date! Saturday, May 14th that will feature vehicles, a K-9 demonstration, a Boston Medflight helicopter landing, free pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs and more for $5 per person or a maximum of $20 per family.
“I work for the Sheriff’s Office as a K-9 officer, and I reached out to a bunch of different law enforcement agencies and a bunch of businesses,” says Toscano, inspired by Glassman’s passion for the project. 
Although Toscano’s children are typically developing, his youngest, Joe, was chosen to greet his classmates with special needs. “I was like, ‘wow, that’s my 4-year-old. He just sees a kid as a kid. You want to try to instill that in your kids, to be helpful to everyone and try to see people for who they are and not anything else. 
I want to help, too. When you see kids who can’t go out in their wheelchair or their walker and have the same fun and opportunities as other kids, we need to change that.”
It’s not only the student who is limited by obstacles at the playground.
“The families of children with disabilities lose out on a lot of opportunities based on accessibility,” says Glassman. 
Meredith Piotti, of Bellingham, who has three daughters, aged 8, 5 and 18 months, was excited when she heard about Glassman’s proposal. Her oldest, Reagan, was diagnosed with the rare inherited disease, Niemann-Pick Type C.
“Starting Kindergarten, her gross motor skills were really lagging her peers’, and even when it was just Reagan, we had difficulty finding playgrounds around town that she’d have a good time and be independent at,” says Piotti. Reagan, who uses a walker and has a wheelchair, feels more confident on playgrounds with continuous handrails and smooth surfaces, not woodchips, that feature “interactive make-believe spaces where she can sit and play pretend or music instruments with her sisters,” says Piotti. Her family often must travel to find those features. “Now that we have three kids, it’s especially challenging to find a place where everyone can have fun – and have fun together.” 
To learn more about the Stall Brook inclusive playground project, visit, look for “Our PlayAbility on Facebook, or find @OurPlayAbilityMA on Instagram