New equipment helps Portland students stretch their imaginations

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PORTLAND — Thanks to a recent donation, students at Bayside Learning Community on Portland Street can stretch their ingenuity and inventiveness by building and rebuilding play structures that tap the power of their imaginations.

The Imagination Playground equipment – a collection of oversized, blue foam parts – is the brainchild of architect David Rockwell, who wanted to “encourage child-directed, unstructured free play to help develop healthy bodies, resilient and creative minds and social and emotional well being,” the Portland Public Schools said in a press release.

The equipment can also be used for academic lessons and science, technology, engineering and math-related projects, according to Jennifer Searway, director of Bayside.

“This is a gift indeed,” Searway said. “It’s not just allowing (us to) promote creative play, but the foam objects can also be used to enhance academic learning,” as well.

The innovative play equipment was given to Bayside by the CarMax Foundation and KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping communities build playgrounds, the School Department press release said.

This is the 34th Imagination Playground that CarMax Foundation and KaBOOM! have donated to schools around the country with the goal of “ensuring that all kids get the balanced and active play they need to thrive,” the release added.

Bayside Learning Community serves students in kindergarten through grade 12 who have significant social or emotional needs, as well as mental health needs. The goal is to work with the students in a small group setting with the hope of integrating them back into the general education population.

“I am pleased that we are able to add to the playground options at the Bayside Learning Center,” Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said Monday. “… The CarMax/Kaboom grant allows (us to offer) creative play opportunities.” both indoors and out.

Searway said she hopes students “will be able to focus and become more engaged in the classroom, as well as (receive) opportunities to learn skills such as how to play appropriately with one another. All ages need to play.”

What she most appreciates about the Imagination Playground, Searway said, is “that it transforms any space into a play space that encourages learning, social development, movement, and, above all, fun.”

Bayside teacher Sarah Corson agreed, saying the play equipment “encourages creativity, communication, and collaboration in play.

“Our students have so much adversity in their lives, it’s imperative that they have the ability to just be kids when they are here at school,” she said. “Imagination Playground allows our students to play, create (and) imagine. It (also) means that our students feel cared about and important, which will help develop their self-worth.”

What Corson said she likes best about the Imagination Playground is that “students can go to a new place every time they use it.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Halo Berg spent builds a track for balls to follow using the new Imagination Playground equipment at Bayside Learning Community in Portland.

Miles Hall, a student at the Bayside Learning Community in Portland, gets creative with new Imagination Playground equipment that’s recently been donated to the school.

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