All Allentown students deserve a safe playground

In Allentown, playing on a playground during recess is a luxury.

While 97% of American elementary schools have playgrounds, two elementary schools – Washington and Newcomer Academy Lincoln in Allentown do not. The playgrounds at other schools in the district do not meet CDC safety standards. This failure places students attending these schools at risk of physical, mental and social health problems.

Playgrounds are essential to a school’s recess program and should be a standard part of all elementary school campuses. Increasing access to quality playgrounds in Allentown is essential for the development of healthy children.

Recess is an unstructured period of the school day during which children can be physically active. According to the CDC, children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, and the daily break contributes to this goal. Access to playground equipment increases the amount of physical activity children undertake.

A study of Danish primary school children found that access to ten additional play structures was associated with a 26% increase in physical activity levels for third grade children. This increase in physical activity helps children improve their strength, build muscle and control their weight. Without appropriate playground equipment, children miss out on the physical health benefits enjoyed by their peers.

The physical skills children develop by playing on playgrounds stimulate their brain development, helping them succeed in school. In a study of preadolescents, exercise was associated with better cognitive function and academic performance. Furthermore, performance in these areas contributed positively to performance in reading and mathematics. This research demonstrates the importance of quality recess to promote academic success.

In addition to benefits for physical and mental health, access to schoolyards during recess can promote social and emotional skills. Because playgrounds are communal spaces, children can learn to share and take turns using equipment.

Sharing is an essential life skill that helps children negotiate and regulate their emotions. Another important skill children learn on playgrounds takes place in moments of collaboration. There are often situations where children need to work together, which increases their collaboration skills. The social skills children learn from playing on playgrounds help them develop emotional regulation and cognitive flexibility, which are essential as children grow into teens and adults.

Given these benefits of playgrounds, we need to ensure that all schools in Allentown have access to quality equipment.

We know that it is possible to improve existing structures. For example, in 2015, the Ramos Elementary School PTA led fundraising efforts to renovate the playground, which was crumbling. In a video describing this project, students share their excitement about the equipment and the benefits they get from the break.

One student in the video explained, “When it’s time to play, we get to play, and when it’s time to work, I think we can concentrate better because we already had time to play.” This student’s words speak to the research that has shown the importance of playgrounds.

This project shows that it is possible to renovate playgrounds. But the next step is to ensure that all schools have playgrounds to begin with.

In October, Dodd Elementary in Allentown got a playground. The original playground, built in 1994, had become unusable by 2020 and was demolished in 2021. The new playground consists of several state-of-the-art amenities, including soft mulch, a sign language board, three slides and wheelchair-accessible swings and equipment.

While the accessible and safe playground equipment additions were exciting, the playground should have been upgraded before it was deemed unsafe. School districts must be proactive and ensure that their facilities are up to date so that children do not miss crucial aspects of their school day.

To ensure that children are not denied access to playgrounds, the Allentown School District must use its funds proactively so that it can build, renovate and maintain playgrounds before they begin to collapse. The almost 8,000 schoolchildren at the 15 primary schools in the district must have the opportunity to play on a playground at any time.

The district must work to ensure equal access to playgrounds so that every child can have the fun, productive, and healthy recess experience they deserve.

Amanda Rosten of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, is a junior at Muhlenberg College, majoring in psychology and minoring in statistics and public health.