Playground equipment
People climb on some of the new playground equipment at Dale-Roy School after a ribbon cutting for it on Aug. 23, 2023.

ASHLAND — Patrick DeRodes has been a kind of “big brother” to the younger students at Dale-Roy School. 

The Dale-Roy School serves students in Ashland County with disabilities. Students receive referrals from their home districts, and range in age from five to 21. 

Inclusive playground equipment stands at Dale-Roy School, thanks to a community fundraising campaign. It was unveiled at a ribbon cutting on Aug. 23, 2023.

DeRodes, an older student at the school, brought younger children toys and building blocks to play with if they were wheelchair-bound, and hung out with them at recess. He loves playing tag with them.

And now, DeRodes can play tag with them on a brand new playground — one with completely new and inclusive equipment for all the students. 

“I like to play,” DeRodes said at a ribbon cutting for the new playground on Wednesday.

A new place to play

The idea for a new playground started when the 2021 class of Leadership Ashland, a branch of Ashland’s Chamber of Commerce, reached out to the school.

As part of Leadership Ashland, each class chooses a service project to work on, Bri Noel said at Wednesday’s event. Noel works as a financial advisor at Edward Jones and on the board of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

“We are very honored and excited to have played a small role in this,” Noel said.

In 2021, they helped install a pavilion, concrete and a wheelchair swing at Dale-Roy School. 

Leadership Ashland’s class of 2021 helped install a wheelchair swing at Dale-Roy School as part of its service project, kick-starting the work on the school’s new playground. It also donated funds to the playground project. Dale-Roy School had a ribbon cutting for the playground on Aug. 23, 2023.

“We quickly realized our old playground was rusty, outdated — it was not someplace where our kids could even enjoy it because it was a good old-fashioned playground like you’d have in the seventies and eighties,” said Dave Ashley, the superintendent at Dale-Roy School, at the ribbon cutting. 

That’s when Molly Kramer, an intervention specialist, stepped in. 

Shannon Lange, the director of education at Dale-Roy School, said new intervention specialists complete four years as a resident educator. In the fourth year, they complete a project.

“I decided that was my project,” Kramer said in an interview with Ashland Source

So, Kramer got to work. The school started a campaign to raise funds for the playground. Kramer and Lange said the campaign ran from February 2022 through June 2022. They raised over $200,000 from the community, which funded the full cost of the playground. 

Dale-Roy School broke ground on installation of the new playground in September 2022. With installation, building a fence around it for safety and re-landscaping the area, the process took until the spring to complete. 

Before the end of the 2022-2023 school year in May, students accessed the playground for the first time.  

“Seeing all the kids’ smiles as they saw it was so special,” Kramer said. “It was the best.”

Open for business

The school hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for Ashland community members to see the completed playground on Aug. 23. Kramer and Lange gave comments at the event. 

Community members, leaders, staff and students from Dale-Roy School gather for a photo and ribbon cutting in honor of the school’s new playground on Aug. 23, 2023.

Ashley, the superintendent of Dale-Roy School, Emily Grimm from the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Noel from Leadership Ashland, Ashland Mayor Matt Miller and representatives from Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office, city council and the State of Ohio auditor’s office also came to Wednesday’s event.  

Lange thanked some of the big donors that made the project possible. She said the Herbert Heil Trust gave a large donation to start the process. Lange also recognized Leadership Ashland, who got the ball rolling, along with the Ashland Evening Lions Club and Aspen Management. 

Molly Kramer (left), Christian Brown (center) and Shannon Lange speak to the crowd at a ribbon cutting for Dale-Roy School’s new playground on Aug. 23, 2023.

Lange called forward Christian Brown too. He used to be a student at Dale-Roy preschool. Lange recognized his passion for the playground project. Brown wrote letters to businesses in the community and did a GoFundMe project. According to Lange, his efforts raised over $12,000 for the project.

“I just wanted to acknowledge one more time Ms. Molly Kramer,” Lange said. “If she hadn’t been willing to take on this huge risk and this huge project, it never would’ve happened.”

Mayor Miller’s comments focused on the work Ashland is doing to fulfill its full potential. 

“This is a wonderful example of how the Dale-Roy School continues to help all of our residents here in this great community fulfill their full potential,” Miller said.

“Melanie and I will be the first to tell you we believe with all our heart and soul that God created each one of us with unique gifts and contributions to make for the good of all of us, and that means every one of us.”

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Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...