They wanted a playground all children could enjoy. They’ve raised almost $700,000.

Students at a Minnesota elementary school are getting an A+ in compassion this year after raising over $600,000 to make their playground wheelchair-accessible and more inclusive.

The project was started by Betsy Julien, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Glen Lake Elementary School. She noticed the school’s current playground isn’t equipped for all children.

The school has about eight students who currently use wheelchairs, said Julien, who also has a child of her own who uses a wheelchair.

“My classroom overlooks this beautiful playground that we have,” she told USA TODAY. “I was just having lunch one day overlooking recess time … I just had this light bulb moment of ‘This is not OK.'”.

She applied for a grant and later got her students involved. The kids quickly raised $35,000 and eventually reached $300,000, Julien said.

Now, the students have a goal of $1 million because they want a fully-inclusive playground.

“Even though it sounded astronomical, in the playground world, it’s very normal and humble,” Julien said.

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Travel:He was told he might be in a wheelchair by 30. He hiked the Appalachian Trail instead.

How did the students get involved?

After talking it over with other people at the school, Julien said she decided to try and get a swing and a merry-go-round for the playground. She applied for a grant in September and the district put in some money as well.

Julien still needed $35,000 though, so she asked her students if they could help her raise the money. That’s when one student asked a million-dollar question.

“Why aren’t we doing the whole playground?” The student asked.

From there, things took off quickly. The class created a fundraising page and on the first day, they raised about $10,000. Now they’re on month three and have raised at least $690,000.

Each night, students go home and brainstorm so they can find more ways to reach their goal. In school, they bounce ideas off each other. They also have a poster where they write short-term and long-term goals, Julien said.

The kids have formed about 20 “advisory groups” that focus on specific approaches such as bake sales, coin drives and passing out flyers.

One initiative has even involved local businesses, she said.

“They took Google Maps and kind of split it up,” she said. “Then they each chose a section and they called every single business within a two-mile radius, which was about 400 businesses.”.

And they didn’t stop there. Julien is licensed to drive a bus, so they hopped on a bus and drove around to talk to locals about their initiative.

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What’s next?

In order to plan the renovations, the school is working with Landscape Structures. The company gave them catalogs to look at for inspiration.

So far, a swing and merry-go-round have been ordered. Part of the new playground should be installed in August, before school starts, Julien said.

The students hope to reach the rest of the $1 million goal by spring 2024.

They also have an upcoming auction and they are working with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team to sell t-shirts.

They’ve also talked about starting a nonprofit and raising more money to help other schools, including schools with fewer special needs students than them.

“They still deserve a really great playground,” Julien recalled the students saying.

“As a parent who has a special needs child, I mean, that just means the world,” she said. “That’s what you want. You want your kids to be accepted and loved and for other people to advocate and fight for them. That’s what my class is doing.”.

For more information or to donate, visit www.Tinyurl.Com/GlenLakePG.

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