When Shirlee Locicero thinks back on her teaching career of 30 years, she has many wonderful memories. Still, there’s a melancholy memory that still sticks with Shirlee to this day: the times when her students with disabilities would stand by her side during recess because the playground where the other children played didn't adapt to their needs.
“I just felt so bad that they didn't have anything that they could play on. They needed some adaptive equipment,” Shirlee said.
There was little Shirlee could do during her teaching days to change the situation but in retirement, Shirlee and her husband Ron, also a retired school teacher, have been unstoppable.
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Eight years ago, the Morgan Hill couple saw a news story about an all-inclusive playground that had opened up in Salinas. It was then that Shirlee and Ron embarked on a journey to bring a similar park to Morgan Hill. Many years and many millions of dollars later, they have finally succeeded.
Earlier this month, the ribbon was cut on Magical Bridge Morgan Hill, the Bay Area’s newest all-abilities playground.
Ron says he did a lot of work, but it was Shirlee who was the driving force, calling her the “coach” of the operation.
“Shirlee did a lot of research, got a lot of information about special needs kids, special needs equipment, and mixing special needs kids with other kids and the power of play and functionality,” said Ron.
Ron, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, fundraised tirelessly and through donations from the city, county, The Junior League of San Jose, and countless businesses and individuals they ultimately brought in $6.2 million to build the park.
“I went to the Rotary, I went to Kiwanis, I went to businesses up and down the street in Morgan Hill, I went out to the industrial park area,” said Ron.
The process was slow, but once funds were initially set in place, the Lociceros were able to go around various schools and get ideas for equipment from those who would actually be using it.
“We decided to set up a meeting at the schools because we wanted the children to pick the equipment,” said Ron.
“Shirlee showed us how we could do it, we put pictures and she got little stickers and the kids could put stickers on the slide they liked and the swing they liked so we went to the schools and we made presentations.”
One piece of equipment, the Magical Harp, responds to movement below it with musical tones. It’s an accessory rooted in innovation and inclusion, which is conducive to the experience that the Magical Bridge is trying to create.
The harp is surrounded by dozens of other slides, swings, and merry-go-rounds made specifically to be used by children with any type of mobility challenge. There is also a small stage and an outdoor classroom included in the playground.
Ron and Shirlee were there on the opening day of the playground when hundreds of children and their families showed up. They also plan to visit regularly, even without their grandchildren, just to watch children with disabilities enjoy what they helped to create.
“They just want to be like the other kids, they want to play with the other kids and be part of the group and with this inclusive park they will be able to do that,” said Shirlee.