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The Seattle School District is systematically updating play areas to include modern, fitness-inspired equipment that welcomes all comers, from the finicky adolescent to the student with special needs and even parents catching up after school hours. The concept of play area as community gathering space has long been part of the district’s philosophy, explains Gretchen DeDecker, Self Help Projects program manager for the 100-school district.

The National Program for Playground Safety at the University of Northern Iowa provides safety training for administrators, teachers, and custodians. The courses are offered online as well as at the university in Cedar Falls. The program will also hold training workshops at schools, says Donna Thompson, the program’s executive director.

Some schools buying new playground equipment are allowing for “perceived risk”—meaning, students sense some danger as they climb, slide and leap, but the chance of serious injury remains low.

Standing high on the platform of the school playground’s zip line, a student imagines a wild jungle across a craggy, bottomless canyon. Behind, the pack of imaginary tigers leaping from the wall mural is getting so close, the child can see the animals’ fangs. The student grabs the handle and zooms through the air like Indiana Jones, reaching the other side with a massive boost in confidence that will pay off for the rest of the school day and beyond.