In the past five years, Foust Elementary School administration, teachers and students have learned more about determination, perseverance and patience than can be found in any textbook.
Foust serves all elementary-aged children with significant physical disabilities within Owensboro Public Schools, and prior to the 2019-20 school year, those students found using the school’s playground difficult.
Through the creation of a video to use with their fundraising efforts, Foust’s playground committee began asking community members, especially those with ties to Foust, to visit the existing equipment.
These efforts are how businessman Jack Wells decided to donate $25,000 to get the project off the ground.
After visiting the school and seeing what was there for students to play on, especially those in wheelchairs or other mobility limitations, Wells said he realized it was not set up properly.
Wells said that Foust has a place in his heart because he attended the school when it was a junior high school and had a great experience.
“I had a good learning time at Foust,” Wells said. “I had a leadership role while in the ninth grade and this helped for high school.”
Wells said that he also had great teachers and a great principal, Bill Chandler, who later became an OPS superintendent.
“Fred Reeves, Gerald Wellman…all were influential leaders,” Wells said, adding they helped him decide his future path from things learned during that time.
Foust Principal Janie Moseley and teacher Adrianne Condray worked with Wells to create a mailing list to solicit donations. In fact, several who attended Foust regularly get together for breakfast and Wells even used this time to talk with them about donations for the new playground.
Foust is 95 percent free and reduced-lunch, which refers to students enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. However, the term is most often used to talk about the concentration of poverty and low-income families within a school boundary.
This meant Foust had to get creative to receive necessary funding for the playground without asking families of their students to fundraise or donate.
Foust applied for an Impact 100 grant two years ago to resurface their existing playground — and received the $100,000 grant in 2017. This was the catalyst to make the necessary changes for inclusivity for Foust’s student population.
“Then the fundraising snowballed,” Moseley said.
The playground committee decided to stop fundraising efforts last December so they could design the final playground.
The new equipment, Moseley said, has whole elements of inclusivity, including the shade structures on the top.
“The shade is a huge deal for people with heat sensitivity,” Moseley said.
The final structure built on the playground is a picnic pavillion donated by US Bank, which allows classes to be held outside and also houses the moveable ga-ga ball pit, which is like a combination of four square and dodgeball, Condray said.
The playground opened to students Aug. 16, and the students are pleased with the equipment and poured surface.
Musical elements were also added for students, and Moseley said that they provide a calming feature for students and add to the variety of activities.
Condray’s third-grade class is writing opinion pieces on their favorite playground elements, and she said that so far, the equipment designed for those with mobility issues are all of the students’ favorites.
Students have more options now than with the former play structure, but they also have several of the typical elements like swings to keep students active. Condray said that when three classes of students are out there, it doesn’t seem crowded.
On Sept. 12 Foust will have a ribbon cutting for the playground. Donors and in-kind supporters are invited to attend.
Moseley said there are 23 donors represented on the playground sign and that each gave $1,000 or more. There were also 111 documented donations, which doesn’t include the fundraising efforts at tailgates, t-shirts and pancake breakfasts.
“I am just so thrilled because one of the best parts is how the playground has brought the Foust family together and the community,” Moseley said. “We have never felt more supported.”
Wells plans to be in attendance at the ribbon cutting, and said he is pleased with how the playground turned out.
“It is larger than I anticipated and I am very happy with it,” Wells said. “It is a place where everyone can participate — all inclusive versus exclusive.”