Years in the making, educators in Rohnert Park have unveiled a $10 million school remodel to encourage learning and community among pre-school children with developmental disabilities.
Mandy Corbin is associate county superintendent...and before a ribbon cutting in front of a pint-sized-climbing wall, an element of a new play structure, she told a group of roughly two dozen that much has changed philosophically since a landmark federal law won approval in 1974.
"If you were a parent of a child with a disability, fifty, sixty, seventy years ago and your child was born with a disability, often you were encouraged by the community to send your child away, to send your child to some kind of institution and in particular, if your child had a disability and there were behaviors, your child definitely, you were encouraged to have your child go somewhere else."
Before, preschoolers at what's now El Colegio Early Education Center in Rohnert Park had been making do with imperfect facilities, Corbin added.
"The center courtyard of the school didn't have any play area, other than a center area was a relatively useless space that had a tree and a picnic table where the staff could certainly sit there and eat lunch, but where we stand now, we have two complete ADA compliant play structures that are designed for three and four-year-olds that are completely accessible for students who are non-ambulatory."
Teacher Laura Temple showed off built in features in her classroom that enable children still crawling to pull themselves up, along with activities encouraging participation. She said its making a difference
"I have quite a few students that are what we consider non-ambulatory, so they are developing motor skills. To have all of this great equipment for them to move around and explore and climb has been significantly beneficial in their progress with walking."
Operated jointly by the county office of education and the Rohnert Park-Cotati Unified School District, the campus been a pre-school since 1986. Teachers and administrators credited retiring county superintendent Steve Herrington for prioritizing and seeing through renovations.
While the playground, with it's mini-track and all-weather drums stole the show, improvements inside have elevated the feeling and mood in classrooms, according to Rachel Allen, director of special education for the Cotati-Rohnert Park school district.
"They are not only big and open and beautiful, but they really allow for developmentally appropriate play in a way that the other classrooms, it was more challenging."