PEABODY — Fundraising is underway for a new inclusive playground at the Brown Elementary School. The playground will be named in memory of Randi Lemenager, a 2013 Peabody High graduate and Westfield State University valedictorian who died earlier this year.
“Randi was a good friend of mine who passed away this August,” said Brown School special education teacher Erin Thorpe, who is helping lead the effort to build the new playground. “She was hired as a special education teacher for one of our fourth grade co-teaching classrooms at the Brown School. She wanted everyone to have a chance to be independent and explore life.”
Naming the playground after Lemenager would be a tribute to her work to improve inclusive opportunities for all students and young people, Thorpe said. While at Westfield State University, Lemenager was active in a peer mentorship program that provided inclusion opportunities for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Thorpe quoted Lemenager as saying “Inclusion is so important. Friendship is something people with disabilities often miss out on growing up. Creating opportunities for these students to develop relationships is something we should all be doing.”
Thorpe said there is huge need for an inclusive playground in Peabody that allows special needs students and students with disabilities to play alongside their classmates. The only other inclusive playground in the city is in West Peabody at Cy Tenney Park, she said.
“The vision of our playground committee is to rebuild our existing playground and for our new playground to be a place where all of our children with disabilities will be able to navigate independently and inclusion between peers can happen effortlessly. Every child can be enriched in the process of accessing it.”
With an inclusive playground, Thorpe said children with disabilities benefit from opportunities to enjoy active play and improve social skills, while children without disabilities learn valuable lessons about the world and can develop concepts related to tolerance, diversity, and acceptance.
The need for an all-inclusive playground at the Brown School is greater than ever, Thorpe said. In 2003, when the school opened, there were no special education students at the school. Now, she said, there are 89 students across 11 special education classrooms.
Brown School principal Elaine Metropolis said she wholeheartedly supports the work of the playground committee.
“This will serve students not just at the Brown School, but also across the whole city,” she said.