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Aiken Receives Grant for Sensory Playground

At the check presentation on Friday, April 5 (from left): Abiah Ruel, Aiken parent and PTO co-president; Robin Lavorgna, Big Y West Hartford Employee Services Representative; Jim Martin, Big Y West Hartford Store Manager; Shannon Mlodzinski, Aiken principal; Monica Walker, Aiken kindergarten teacher; and Sarah Winiarski, Aiken parent. They were joined by several current (and future!) Aiken students. Submitted photo

West Hartford’s Aiken Elementary School applied for and received a significant grant as part of Big Y’s Education Express Holiday Wish List Sweepstakes.

Aiken kindergartners pose with a note from their class thanking Big Y for their donation. Submitted photo

 Submitted by Meredith Springer

On Friday, April 5, Aiken Elementary School was presented with a $3,500 check from Big Y World Class Market for building a new sensory playground at their school.

Aiken was awarded the money as a part of Big Y’s Education Express Holiday Wish List Sweepstakes. The sweepstakes, which was open to any school enrolled in the store’s Education Express program, offered schools the opportunity to submit an essay or video explaining their holiday wish. Schools were asked to describe how their wish will positively impact their students and the local community. 

According to West Hartford Big Y Store Manager Jim Martin, Aiken is the first West Hartford school to be selected for this particular award.

Aiken’s submission outlined the idea of building a playground outside their kindergarten and first grade classrooms, to provide more frequent “body breaks” for primary grade students.

The essay, which was written by Sarah Winiarski, an Aiken kindergarten parent and nonprofit grant writer, explained how the planned playground will be intentionally designed to meet the needs of children who seek sensory input through multiple modalities (i.e., touch, sound, sight, and movement).

The proposal for the sensory playground was initially presented to the school’s PTO by Aiken kindergarten teacher Monica Walker.

Walker explained the importance of sensory play for her young students, citing changes in the curriculum, as well as an increase in students’ social and emotional needs. “I have found that I am consistently trying to incorporate more ways to provide my students with movement breaks. These breaks help sustain their attention and provide them with the sensory input they are seeking,” she said. “The new wave of playgrounds offer so much to help meet these needs.”

Having nearby access to a playground of this nature, she said, will allow for more frequent breaks, while minimizing disruption to the school day.

While full funding for the playground may take several years to achieve, Aiken is focused on implementing additional opportunities for sensory play in the near term. The PTO has recently provided funding for a sensory path in the kindergarten and first grade hallways. The path is expected to be installed within the next few months.

“I am very excited for these upcoming improvements. We are thankful to Big Y for their generosity and for their commitment to supporting local schools,” said Aiken’s principal, Shannon Mlodzinski. “Their grant provides a wonderful foundation for our sensory playground fundraising efforts. This playground will have a direct and positive impact on countless students for years to come.”

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