Towson school begins fundraising for outdoor space designed for students with special needs

A special education day school in Towson kicked off a public fundraising campaign Monday for an outdoor space specifically designed for its students.

The school, the Arrow Center for Education Tangram School, reached more than half its $200,000 funding goal from foundations and donors familiar with the school between July 3 and July 10. The ADA-compliant play space, which will be located at its Towson location at 8830 Orchard Tree Lane, will include a playground, music center and greenhouse aimed to help with “play therapy,” as well as vocational skills.

“A lot of our students with autism don’t pick up the play skills like typically developing kids. Sometimes they need to be taught how to play, so that’s kind of what play therapy is,” said Sarah Righter, a speech language pathologist for the school.

The school serves 34 students between the ages of eight and 21 with special needs from five Maryland counties, most of whom have been diagnosed with autism, said the school’s principal, Mark Rapaport.

One way the playground will help the school’s students is providing them with a controlled, more private environment to learn to use playground equipment before venturing out to public parks, Righter said.

“[Community parks] can be pretty chaotic, depending on how many kids are there at a time, and that can be overwhelming for our students,” she said.

The plans for the space, which were designed by Sparks@Play, a playground equipment supplier in Owings Mills, were created with a “sensory-minded” design, said Kristin McMahon, the school’s fund development and community relations director. The plans include a slide with rolling bars, an omni spinner — a plastic spinning circle with bars to hold onto that is wider to accommodate children in wheelchairs — as well as upraised plastic steps to walk on, a wall of marbles that can spin, a hypnosis-looking wheel that spins and a game called “search and seek,” which is when different medallions are hidden around the playground for students to search for, McMahon said.

The sensory input the playground provides is important for students with special needs because it helps them to practice motor skills — climbing, running, jumping — as well as their balance abilities, and it can be calming, Righter said.

There are also plans to create a music corner with chimes, a xylophone and drums, as well as a greenhouse to teach students about gardening and to develop job skills.

“It might not necessarily be that they are getting a job in gardening, but the fact that they can go out and maybe follow a checklist to complete a task creates more independence for students after graduation,” Righter said.

School officials hope for the playground to be open to the community one weekend per month, McMahon wrote in an email.

“We are so ecstatic to be able to provide this type of opportunity for our kids, one you can’t find in other places,” Rapaport said.

The project, which is set to be completed by November, is accepting donations at www.arrow.org/give.

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