STS Blog

How Our Students Imagined an Inclusive Playground for All
St. Thomas School


We are excited to share that our local Greet Magazine, a community-focused publisher with national magazines, featured our eighth-grade students’ innovative design project to concept an inclusive playground.

In a remarkable project, our students brainstormed and developed ideas around playground designs that met the needs of students with disabilities, including those with ADHD, autism, low vision, hearing impairment, local motor issues or dwarfism. This project reflects our curriculum’s core philosophy of global citizenship: a dedication to social responsibility and the belief that students should be active participants in making the world a better place.

It was part of the social innovation class offered by the Center for Leadership and Innovation, where students learned about the design thinking process and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals aimed at creating a more sustainable future. Our goal with this project was to emphasize the importance of designing solutions that meet the needs of a diverse range of users and to foster global citizenship among students.

To provide hands-on experience in using design thinking to develop critical problem-solving skills, students worked in teams focused on a specific disability.

Here’s a closer look at some highlights of their work:

Design research and hands-on observation. Inspired by the book, “Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design” by Kat Holmes, which examines how design can frustrate or alienate users, students researched the challenges and barriers those with disabilities face. They also explored their local playgrounds through the lens of different users, taking photos and reviewing the structure from the perspective of a person with a disability.

Collaboration with community partners. Students met with community partners and experts in the field of inclusive design to gain insights and feedback on their ideas. This included visiting the Inspiration Playground in Bellevue and speaking with Pam Fehrman, project manager for the City of Bellevue. Fehrman played a key role in managing the playground’s construction and helped students learn about how they should approach creating their playgrounds.

Growth through feedback. The students presented their designs to a panel of subject matter experts, most with a disability themselves, to learn from the experts’ firsthand experiences and how design impacts others. This experience offered students tremendous personal growth by allowing them to refine their ideas based on the feedback they received.

The inclusive playground project taught our students valuable lessons in empathy and an understanding of diverse perspectives, empowering them to discover ways that they can enhance the lives of people of different abilities. We’re grateful to Greet Magazine for featuring their project and bringing attention to the importance of inclusive design.