Rihab Alghazali (center), 10, swings around on Hawthorne Elementary School’s new playground that opened Saturday afternoon in Everett. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Rihab Alghazali (center), 10, swings around on Hawthorne Elementary School’s new playground that opened Saturday afternoon in Everett. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Everett elementary school celebrates new, safer playground

EVERETT — Dozens of parents, young children, teachers and community members endured cold, rainy weather Saturday to celebrate Hawthorne Elementary School’s new playground.

Replacing a playground is just routine upkeep for plenty of schools, but at Hawthorne, one of Snohomish County’s poorest, it has taken three years to raise the money.

Several kids had broken limbs, one almost lost an ear and countless kids got splinters from the 30-year-old playground structure that was torn down this fall.

“It was bad. I didn’t think kids should be playing on it,” said Charlene Williams, whose grandson, Delveon O’Brien, is in second grade at Hawthorne.

“One of my friends almost broke his arm when he slipped off the monkey bars,” Delveon said.

When parts of the structure came down, they stayed off, said Merridy Senger, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA). “They weren’t safe to go back up.”

Hawthorne’s community is one of the poorest in the area. Nearly 90 percent of the students come from low-income households, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

It also has one of the highest rates of students — about 50 percent — who speak only limited English.

Across the Everett School District, nearly 40 percent of students come from low-income families and about 13 percent speak limited English.

“Big things don’t come easily to us,” Senger said.

In most years, Hawthorne’s PTA barely raises enough money to cover field trips, books for the library, equipment for physical education and other typical expenses it helps cover, she said.

After years of fundraising, they had cobbled together $5,000 by May, a significant amount but a shadow of their goal of $75,000.

In May, The Daily Herald ran an article about the campaign.

“By 7 a.m. (the day the article ran), our phones we’re ringing off the hook with calls from donors and media,” Senger said.

Over the next few months, they raised more than $100,000, including $25,000 from the Howarth Trust via the Everett Public Schools Foundation, a $16,000 grant from Snohomish County, about $42,000 from the Hawthorne PTA, $10,000 from Shaffer Crane, $10,000 from Mountain Pacific Bank and its board chairman Rick Pedack, and thousands more from individual donors.

Money came from as far away as Montana, she said.

Charlene Williams’ family donated $1,000.

“We got blessed” and passed it on, she said.

The new structure opened a few weeks ago.

Playing is a critical part of early learning, said Celia O’Connor-Weaver, Hawthorne’s principal.

The playground also is used by kids in the neighborhood, many of whose families can’t afford to pay for organized sports, she said.

Getting a new playground sends an important message to Hawthorne’s kids, O’Connor-Weaver said. “It makes them feel like they mean a lot.”

At Saturday’s ceremony, cards from students thanking donors blanketed a folding table.

“I love it, because it is so big and fun,” said one card adorned with red and green hearts.

Another declared it “really awesome.”

Delveon O’Brien likes the new playground, especially its slide.

“It goes faster” than the old one, he said.

Herald writer Kari Bray contributed to this report.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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