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North Syracuse Early Education Program celebrates community’s support for inclusive playground

On Saturday, May 15, the North Syracuse Early Education Program (NSEEP) celebrated a vision realized with a grand opening ceremony for the school’s new inclusive playground. The celebration was the result of many years of fundraising, hard work and community support.

The North Syracuse Early Education Program serves disabled and non-disabled students in an inclusive setting. Many disabled students receive special therapies through multi-disciplinary teams. The addition of an inclusive playground, with features such as wide wheelchair-accessible ramps, a poured smooth rubber surface and a communication board, allows more students to participate in learning opportunities through play.

Cheri Rotelli, a physical therapist at NSEEP and the coordinator of the playground project, spoke about the importance of the playground. “When playgrounds are inaccessible to disabled children, it puts a bruise on their social development. All children should have the same opportunities,” she said. “This inclusive playground ensures that our disabled students in fact do have more equal opportunities to experience growth through play.”

While the NSEEP was able to physically “open” the playground earlier this school year, a community celebration was delayed due to restrictions around COVID. At the May 15 ceremony, program representatives took time to publicly thank the many donors for supporting the project. Financial supporters of the playground project include the following organizations: Boeheim Foundation, CME Associates, Inc., CNY Community Foundation, Lockheed Martin Employees Federated Fund, Summerwood Pediatrics and Toss N Fire, LLC.

Individual donors include: April Barrett, Ralph Bova, Anita Cimino, Robert Crabtree, Donna DiFulvio, Dr. Robert Dracker, Mary Jane Fagan, James & Marjorie Gorman, Daina Wood Jakubowski, Robert & Sara MacMartin, Edina Osmanovic, Alfred Papenfus, Lucinda Redmond, Cheri Rotelli, Laurel Saiz and Mary Ann Venesky. Additionally, several individuals and organizations were recognized for supporting the playground’s grand opening celebration: 4D Productions (led by Mr. John Nadler) and the wonderful NSEEP Staff for their tremendous efforts, as well as New York State Assemblyman Al Stirpe, Carla Donohue, Dunkin' Donuts, Geddes Bakery, Lion’s Club of North Syracuse, Mario's Bakery and Pastry Shop, NSEEP PTO, Price Chopper, Target, Tops Friendly Markets and Wegmans.

North Syracuse Central School District’s Superintendent of Schools, Daniel D. Bowles, discussed the playground and the opportunities afforded to NSEEP students because of it. Superintendent Bowles said, “This beautiful area may seem like just a playground but in reality it is an extension of the classroom for our youngest students. This is an important step in these children’s educational journey and I want to thank you for making this possible.”

The NSEEP hopes to be able to expand the playground in the future to include a shade structure so that students can safely participate in Play to Learn opportunities in all types of weather.