A Playground for All: PTA Alumna Works to Build Inclusive Space

“What if I never had the opportunity to go down a slide?” This was the question that started Madison Wilkinson, PTA, (’17, ’19) on the path to a years-long service project to help children in her community. Her work to raise money and install an accessible and inclusive playground in Sidney, Neb. is nearly complete, but it’s been a long journey informed by her experiences as a physical therapist assistant (PTA) and a passion for helping children facing challenges and disabilities.

Wilkinson’s excitement for pediatric care began long before she decided to enter the PTA program at Clarkson College. “I grew up around kids, and it’s never the same day twice when you’re around them.”

Jessica Niemann, M.Ed., PTA, Director of PTA at the College and Wilkinson’s instructor, says this passion was obvious even in the classroom. “It was evident that she is connected with the pediatric community, and this drives her understanding of their unique health needs.”

Originally from Sidney, Wilkinson decided that after graduating with her Associate’s degree in 2017, she wanted to return to her hometown. As a caregiver at Soar Pediatrics, she works with children in western Nebraska school systems who are struggling to achieve developmental milestones like crawling, walking, skipping, jumping or any other gross motor skills. While working, she decided to return to the College and earn her Bachelor’s degree in PTA.

According to Wilkinson, playgrounds are one of the best places to work with children on developing the balance, strength and coordination they need to achieve these skills. Her community, however, does not have a playground designed to accommodate those with physical challenges. “A lot of playgrounds discriminate against kids who are not neurotypical, so it poses a challenge,” says Wilkinson.

So, she decided to do something about it. While earning her Bachelor’s degree, Wilkinson had completed a course in grant writing, which gave her the foundational skills to embark on a fundraising campaign to raise $711,000 for an inclusive playground. With help from community members and foundations, she’s nearly there.

Along the way, she’s never lost sight of who the project is for. “I just kept thinking, what if I never had the opportunity to build relations because I was limited to one part of the playground, or couldn’t go to the playground at all?”

Thanks to her, children in Sidney may not ever have to ask these questions. 

To learn more about our Physical Therapist Assistant program, visit our webpage.