Math + Play = Elizabeth Medlock: Gateway Academy teacher and non-profit activist

Savannah Chastain
Elizabeth Medlock stands with daughter Logan, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, in an apparatus called the Upsee. The Upsee is a harness that allows a child who cannot walk to be able to walk with the support of an adult.

Elizabeth Medlock is passionate about what she does; A mother, a math teacher and a non-profit founder to name of few of the priorities that top the list.

As a teacher, Medlock leads fifth to eighth grade math at Gateway Academy, a Christian private school out of Destiny Worship Center in Miramar Beach.

“My main goal when I walk into the classroom is to make math fun,” she said. “I’m loud, I’m joyful, I want to make it exciting and I hope that my love and joy for math is infectious.”

The small private school is home to 154 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, and of those Medlock sees 42 students pass through her math class a day.

“I try to find a game for every concept they are learning,” Medlock said. “I want them to see how much fun it can be, see how it applies to their lives and how they can excel in it.”

Medlock explained that one of the perks of being a small school is the attention she can take to each student’s learning style.

“The focus is less on standards and testing and more on the curriculum and trying to make sure every student understands,” she said.  “That’s my focus. I ask myself, ‘Do they go out of here loving math or at least loving the concept of math?’ I want them to know it’s OK to make mistakes; that it’s a safe zone when they walk in here.”

A mother to three young girls, two of which suffer from physical disabilities, Medlock’s other passion is a non-profit called Connecting Kids Incorporated. The goal of the organization is to improve or create local playgrounds that offer components for children and parents with disabilities.

“Nobody really thinks about playgrounds being accessible. There are some with ramps that get you to the equipment but that is like a ramp that gets you to the door, but not through the door. With an inclusive playground it will not only get you to the door, but also open the door so everyone is included.”

Medlock told The Log that it was her youngest daughter Logan that inspired her to found Connecting Kids. Nearly three-years-old, Logan was born with Cerebral Palsy and epilepsy, resulting in visual impairment and limited muscle coordination as the disease affects the part of the brain that controls muscle movement.

“I was really inspired when I took her to a playground and realized there was nothing she could do, nothing she could engage in with other children,” Medlock said. “She loves to rock, she loves to slide, she loves to swing, but she doesn’t have the chance to do those things. So I did what I do best; and that’s research the rules and regulations surrounding playgrounds and non-profits.”

Connecting Kids is currently raising funds to update playgrounds across Okaloosa County.

“The most important components are surfacing and shading,” said Medlock when asked what makes a playground ideal for inclusive play. “It also has to have equipment that is engaging and accessible to children of all abilities.”

The update process is a slow one and involves not only thousands of dollars for the equipment and approval from the county, but new playground safety requirements must also be met before any improvements can take place.

Medlock said she is currently in the process of speaking with Okaloosa County on the pre-existing park opportunities, as well as using any opportunity to publically share her passion and educate others to the importance of inclusive playgrounds.

  “I think if they understand that we are talking about a child who is getting left out on the playground…putting them in our shoes…people will have a heart to invest in something like that,” said Medlock. “We want to reach out to the community and be able to pour back into our schools. Our hope is that people will see the impact that it will make on these kids socially, and it will make finding the resources easier.”