In reaction to the completion of a new playground and the turnout of over 100 people for its dedication ceremony on Monday, August 6, Gulfport Montessori Elementary School Principal Jessley Hathaway said, “I still can’t believe the way the community came together for this in such a short amount of time.”
He and members of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) had a vision for the facility when they first started thinking about it in early 2017.
The process of funding the playground “has truly been a journey,” said Barbara Pace, outgoing PTA president at the school. “Without the community’s support, we would not have ever realized this.”
The Title 1 school serves about 650 children from Gulfport and St. Petersburg ranging from pre-kindergarten through 5th grade, said Hathaway. The majority of the fundraising for the playground came from Gulfport.
“What a way to showcase what an entire community can do,” said Hathaway.
Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego said, “When they got the support of the Chefs Table event, that brought them over the top. The leadership and citizens of Gulfport care about kids and they care about the school.”
The people who organized the second-annual Chefs Table in Gulfport in 2017 and who chose the school’s playground effort as the benefactor “did a great job,” said Vice Mayor Christine Brown, who also teaches math at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport. “The kids are going to be so happy when they come back to school next week.”
Margarete Tober, president of the Gulfport Neighbors non-profit group, worked with Pia Goff, owner of Pia’s Trattoria, and other members of the Gulfport Restaurant Association to host the second-annual Chefs Table. They donated the $17,538.50 in proceeds to the new playground initiative at the school.
“It’s wonderful and I’m delighted,” said Tober.
Tober also worked with other local area business owners to obtain additional donations. “It’s a great example of a private-public partnership that any community can do.”
In addition to community support, “it was important for the PTA to have our families and students share a vested interest in this project,” said Pace. “Some of the ways the students and families helped raise [money was] through classroom collections of coins, candy cane sales at Christmas time, flower sales during Valentine’s Day, redeeming Coke product reward points and encouraging Amazon Smile designations to the school. This has been a dream and a journey of many and we have finally reached the finish line. The total funds raised were in excess of $27,000.”
The school board contributed too, along with trimming trees and adding a safety fence around the playground, said Pace.
“In addition to the building the playground, six new picnic tables are on order,” she said.
Every student in the school will have the opportunity to use the playground for the state-mandated recess time, to enjoy a meal and also “as a place to come together to have a great time and to celebrate learning,” said Hathaway.
Donna Graham, incoming PTA president, said, “It took a lot of dedication and hard work. It pays off. I’m loving it. It was all hands on deck.”