Two Educators with Big Hearts Spark Magical Bridge Playground in Morgan Hill
Decades ago, a young teacher was on playground duty when she met a student with disabilities who was eager to talk. The teacher took the opportunity to get to know the girl, and their conversation stretched through lunch and recess. The moment shifted the teacher, and not just because it was a chance to connect with students. It was because the girl told her she wanted to talk because couldn’t do anything else on the playground.
That teacher was Shirlee Locicero, who with husband and fellow educator Ron Locicero, built a mission after their careers to help kids like the isolated student on the playground. With 70 years of teaching experience between them, the couple turned their heartbreak into activism, spending several years volunteering and lobbying to bring a playground to their hometown where all kids could play, no matter their physical or cognitive challenges, no matter their age or ability.
Today, a dream that began decades ago with a student on the ill-equipped schoolyard playground, has come to life. Thanks to the dedication of Shirlee and Ron Locicero and a team of volunteers they’ve led, Magical Bridge Playground and the City of Morgan Hill proudly announce that a fourth inclusive, innovative playground will make its home in Morgan Hill’s Community Park.
Morgan Hill City Council unanimously approved a Magical Bridge Playground in Community Park, committing to identify $2 million in funding. The City Council will partner with Magical Bridge Foundation this fall to apply for a Santa Clara County Matching Grant for an additional $2 million. Community Park rests in the heart of Morgan Hill, and welcomes its 33,000 residents, neighbors from across the region, and 250,000 annual visitors of all ages. With an inclusively minded Tatum’s Garden in Salinas 40 miles south of Morgan Hill, the Magical Bridge playground will be the first inclusive playground in the stretch between San Jose’s Rotary Playground and Tatum’s.
When the City Council’s vote rang out on July 19th , a tear ran down Ron Locicero’s cheek. The former PE teacher has been an advocate of inclusion since his high school internship as a counselor for special needs children at a parks and rec day camp. During his tenure as a teacher, he enthusiastically introduced kids with special needs into classes with his other students. Working with special needs children during a time when they were often segregated from other kids turned a light on his heart and, thankfully, it has never gone out.
“The first time I met Shirlee and Ron Locicero was in 2015 at the grand opening of Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto,” Magical Bridge’s co-founder Olenka Villarreal recalled. “It had taken us seven long years of fundraising and work to open that original playground, and hundreds of excited friends, family, and supporters poured into this new and magical space. Among them were the Lociceros, two retired and beloved school teachers who came to celebrate with us and determined to bring a park like ours to Morgan Hill. Their commitment was inspiring and now we are thrilled to make magic happen together,” Magical Bridge co-founder Olenka Villarreal recalled.
Alongside Morgan Hill Community Park’s 24 acres of trails, fields, skate arena, and public art where residents already gather, the playground will serve the more than 2,000 local school children with special needs as well as their friends, family and the new acquaintances they’ll meet in Magical Bridge’s Kindness Corner or Sliding Mound.
“The partnership with Magical Bridge Foundation provides a tremendous opportunity to bring a truly inclusive playground to Morgan Hill. We’re excited to work with the team at Magical Bridge, our community members, and our volunteers who’ve worked tirelessly to make this playground a reality,” Mayor Steve Tate said.
The road to Magical Bridge Playground in Morgan Hill will be paved by many in the year ahead. But the first trail was blazed by Shirlee and Ron Locicero’s lifelong commitment to all children as teachers and volunteers, and by the light that shone through to them when they met children with a variety of differences who were not getting the opportunity to play, connect, and experience the joy of community.
“I’ve been working for children all of my adult life. I’m really excited about doing this playground project. I see it as a positive thing. It’s great for Morgan Hill, it’s great for the Parks and Recreation Department, it’s great for everybody!” Ron Locicero exclaims.
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