By Sara Callaghan Chapell
Students, teachers and community members gathered at the Haines Elementary School playground to dedicate new playground equipment in memory of Mike Saunders, and recognize the efforts of the students who researched and planned the installation.
Kate Saunders worked with Chilkat Valley Community Foundation to set up the Mike Saunders Youth Activity Fund after his death in 2010. “People wanted to donate money and I wanted to find something that Mike would appreciate,” said Saunders. “Mike worked diligently to get playground equipment at the new school. He was passionate about it. It seemed very appropriate that we give the money towards a piece of playground equipment.”
Saunders approached her daughter’s fourth grade teacher, Lexie DeWitt, about taking on the task of choosing an appropriate piece of equipment. DeWitt helped the students research options in catalogs and design a survey to solicit ideas from other classes.
Students decided on a jungle gym with overhead “monkey bars.” They helped place the order, and worked with the school’s maintenance staff to ensure the safe placement and installation of the new equipment. Students were climbing on the new equipment by the fall of 2011. “It was a great opportunity for the kids,” said DeWitt. “They learned if they come together they can do something great.”
The dedication ceremony took place the last week of the school year, with the kindergarten through fifth grade in attendance.
Principal Cheryl Stickler spoke and fifth graders Tailer Olsson and Gabrielle St. Clair recounted the story of their accomplishment. Ann Myren spoke on behalf of the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation.
A cedar bench nearby, built by an anonymous volunteer with materials donated by the school, includes a plaque inscribed, “In memory of Mike Saunders who loved to see children play.”
“I’m very pleased,” said Kate Saunders. “Mike would have been very happy with it. I couldn’t have asked for more.”