“Let’s do this!” Donations pour in to build an ADA playground at a Twin Falls elementary school

TWIN FALLS – When it snows outside, 6-year-old Zella Egan usually spends recess inside Sawtooth Elementary because her wheelchair gets stuck in the frozen mounds and fluff. 

Even in nice weather, she has to be wheeled through grass and bark to get near the playground toys. Once there, she can only watch from below as other kids climb to the top, hang on the monkeybars, or go down the slides. 

Zella, who is diagnosed with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, uses both a wheelchair and walker to aid in her mobility. The playground was not built for someone like her. 

The current playground at Twin Falls’ Sawtooth Elementary is not accessible for all kids. Photo Courtesy of Sawtooth Elementary PTO.

Last year, her fellow kindergarteners took notice. 

They tried to involve Zella in recess play by having her toss balls and then catching or going to get them. But beyond that, there wasn’t much to do. The kids told their parents about it, the parents talked to the local education foundation, and a plan was hatched: They would fundraise for an ADA-accessible playground for Zella and others with disabilities.

“We desperately want Zella to have the same opportunities for play and socialization as her classmates and peers,” a brochure about the fundraising efforts reads. “Offering an accessible playground for people of all abilities to enjoy will not only provide Zella, but countless other children, the basic right to just simply play and be a child.”

The accessible playground will cost $220,000, and so far, the Twin Falls School District Education Foundation and the school’s Parent Teacher Organization have raised more than $140,000. They hope to raise the rest of the funds this school year and begin construction on the new playground this summer. 

Donors have included kids, businesses, and retired teachers. They’re all giving in the hopes that next school year, Zella and others like her will be right there with their peers, looking down from the top of the toys. 

“This work is especially meaningful at Sawtooth where the school hosts an Extended Resources Classroom for students with significant disabilities that require specialized placement,” Eva Craner, the district spokesperson said. 

The playground would benefit students with disabilities for years to come, and would be open to everyone in the community. It would be fully wheelchair accessible and would include sidewalks connecting the school to the playground, bonded rubber fall zones, sensory-focused, ground-level play stations and accessible slides and play equipment. 

Zella is all for it: “Let’s do this!” she said.

Zella Egan, 6, is hopeful for an ADA playground to be built at her school, Sawtooth Elementary.
To make a donation for the new playground, please make out a check to the Twin Falls School District Education Foundation and mail it to P.O. Box 1182, Twin Falls, ID. 83303-1182. To make a credit or debit card payment, contact Sari Jayo at (208) 390-2029.

Zella is one of many kids who stand to benefit from the playground

Zella can’t wait to play on the new toys – especially the merry-go-round. Sara Egan, Zella’s mom, said her daughter is an “adrenaline junkie” who cried on a family trip to Disneyland when she didn’t get to go on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride a third time. 

“Zella is fun, she’s got an amazing smile, a twinkle in her eye, she just radiates this spirit that draws people in,” Egan said. 

In the hallways at school, the other kids seem to know her and give hugs, smiles, and high fives. 

“It’s very heartwarming,” Egan said. “It means there’s still good people in the world and these little kids don’t know any different. It’s good to see in a world like this.”

Zella is one of many children with disabilities who stand to benefit from such a playground – including those at the school now and in the future, and general community members. 

There is another accessible park across town, but Egan said it’s often very crowded, which can be hard for certain kids with disabilities. The new park would create more options for families, and would allow for school-day recess play. 

Accessible parks and playgrounds can also serve as a meeting place for kids and parents to meet others like them. 

Egan said not all families feel comfortable putting themselves and their children in the limelight to advocate for their needs, and some are just too overwhelmed to speak up. So, she does so in their stead. 

“If I can be an advocate for Zella and other kids and give them a full opportunity to have the same needs met that any other kid has, I will gladly accept that responsibility and yell from the rooftops to be a face for these kids,” Egan said. “If I can be that person, I will.”

Sari Jayo, president of the Sawtooth PTO, said the project has raised awareness and helped kids to see beyond the disabilities of their peers. 

“The purpose of this playground is inclusion and setting these kiddos up for success at an early age so they can see that all kids have abilities,” she said. 

Now, they just need the rest of the funds to make it happen. 

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Giving from the heart: donations have poured in, but more are needed

Earlier this week, Mickey Combs, the principal at Sawtooth Elementary School, was in the parking lot heading in to work when a well-known, retired teacher pulled up. 

She reached through her car window and handed Combs a check for $200 to go toward the new playground. 

“She was at this school for years and years, and she just wanted to contribute to what was happening,” Combs said. 

Good deeds like those have been piling up as the community pools their resources for an inclusive playground. 

The school has also participated in a number of small fundraisers, including a silent auction and selling pastries. 

“It’s been fantastic,” Combs said. “The support from the community has been phenomenal.” 

Egan feels the same way, and is heartened by the support from everyone at the elementary and beyond.

“I’ve really grown to love the Sawtooth family because of how hard they have fought for these kids,” she said. 

The idea for the playground started in kids’ mouths, and kids are donating to it, too. 

One family friend, 13-year-old Langston Dahl, heard about the fundraiser and donated $100  – money he earned through selling balloon animals at a farmer’s markets throughout the summer and fall. 

“It’s very humbling when a child as young as he is, who’s into dirt bikes and Jordan shoes and buying cool things would take money out of his own wallet and put it toward kids,” Egan said. “It’s very sweet and tender to see people want to do something good because they see the need.”

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Craner said the community support and donations are essential. About 80% of the district’s budget goes to staffing, so there’s not much left over for projects like new playground equipment. 

She said the district is grateful for all the efforts to bring equal opportunities to kids. 

“The community really does value schools, not just as assets for the kids from 8-3, but also after hours,” Craner said. “It really speaks to how we want our schools to exist within our community.”

To make a donation for the new playground, please make out a check to the Twin Falls School District Education Foundation and mail it to P.O. Box 1182, Twin Falls, ID. 83303-1182. To make a credit or debit card payment, contact Sari Jayo at (208) 390-2029.


Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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