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Student-led movement results in new playground | Schools

Volunteers helped put together the new playground  structure last month at Orchard Heights Elementary. - Courtesy Photo
Volunteers helped put together the new playground structure last month at Orchard Heights Elementary.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Perhaps no South Kitsap School District campus has seen more improvements in recent years than Orchard Heights Elementary.

That continued last month when the school’s 550 students were introduced to the new play structure.

Orchard Heights principal Nancy Pack said the project was spurred two years ago when Associated Student Body leaders in third through sixth grades at the school suggested replacing the worn playground structure at the school. Pack said she likes to empower students to make decisions that improve Orchard Heights, but she thought raising enough money to replace the playground would take about four years.

“We’re big on student-led government,” Pack said. “It really has made a difference in the social climate. They work together.”

She said students earned $7,000 during their first fundraiser. Pack said she told ASB leaders that money would be enough to buy new playground equipment, such as balls, but it was far from enough to purchase a new structure. She said students were determined to stick with their goal, though.

Students continued to fundraise and Pack said the project received a boast when SKSD facilities and operations manager Mike Riley told her he might be able to secure a demonstration playground from GameTime. When Riley was told by GameTime officials that one was available for $21,000, Pack said students had to work quickly to finalize fundraising.

In addition to the students and surrounding community, Pack said SKSD’s facilities department worked hard to install the structure and place bark, which now is used with playground structures, to have it ready on time for students’ use when school began last month.

It is just the latest improvement project at Orchard Heights in recent years. In 2008, the front gardens consisted of dirt, gravel and little else. Heather Mroz-Spoon, who then taught fourth- through sixth-graders at Orchard Heights, said her students wanted a grander entrance to their school. The work began that spring with 30 minutes a day of moving gravel to the back parking lot to help fill potholes. From there, they tapped others to assist with the project — the city of Tacoma donated its TAGRO mix and potting soil products — before contacting Lowe’s, which awarded the school a grant to spruce up the area. Lowe’s employees assisted students and staff with removing the small rocks and creating brick paths leading through busy walkways and up to the flag.

Less than one year later, the roof on the east wing of Orchard Heights was replaced.

“Not only are we making it look good,” said Pack, whose school has received four awards, including a Title 1 “reward school” in September, during the last three years. “We are making it more effective.”

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