PCES playground dedicated, re-named
Not many things could entice elementary-age children to show up to school more than a week before they officially start back for the new school year, but a brand-new playground is something exciting enough to make that happen.
Students and parents from Phil Campbell Elementary School showed up with shovels in hand to take part in the dedication and groundbreaking ceremony for the new playground that will replace the school’s old playground that was destroyed during the April 27 tornado.
School and state officials along with other honored guests also took part in the ceremony that dedicated the future “Gentry-Knox-Mojica Playground,” named to honor the memory of beloved second-grade teacher Patricia Gentry, fourth-grader Ethan Knox, and third-grader Edgar Mojicia, who were all killed during the tornado that claimed the lives of 23 other Phil Campbell residents as well.
“We have all been on an emotional roller coaster since April 27, but today is about recovery and about the children,” Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow said at the ceremony. “If we view things from the eyes of our children, we see a different world – one of compassion and caring. Many people have shown that kind of compassion by donating to this cause.”
Among those who donated money to help rebuild the PCES playground were elementary students from Elvin Hill Elementary in Shelby County who donated $1,000 from money raised at their field day in May.
Nine-year-old Katie Smith, who will be entering the fourth grade at PCES on Aug. 15, recently raised $300 from selling lemonade and she donated the money to the school during Thursday’s ceremony.
Smith said she was inspired to do something for the school by Omar Mojica, the brother of her classmate, Edgar Mojica, who was killed in the storm.
“I just wanted to do something good for the school,” Smith said.
Also present at Thursday’s ceremony was Howard Zeff, a representative of Temple B’nai Israel in Florence, which donated $8,000 towards the construction of the playground.
According to a resolution introduced by Morrow in the Alabama House of Representatives, Temple B’nai Israel used money from a fund originally set up by Dr. Frederic Rosemore, father of local optometrist Martha Morrow. The fund was set up to help bridge the gap between religions for the purpose of showing God’s love to others.
“There’s always a silver lining in any situation and the silver lining here is that this situation brought us here to help you reestablish what you lost and it’s a privilege,” Zeff said to the crowd of students and parents. “Sometimes the reward of giving is just as good as the reward of receiving and this is one of those situations. We are glad to help.”
Also helping the school is the non-profit organization KaBOOM!, which is a company based out of Washington, D.C., whose purpose is to build playgrounds for children in need. Phil Campbell graduate Kim Sherill works with the organization and has been instrumental in making the “Gentry-Knox-Mojica Playground” possible.
“It’s taking a little longer for our playground to come together because KaBOOM! is planning to make this playground special because of the devastation here,” Sherill said, “but before this school year is out, this playground will be in place. It will be something no one in this area could have ever imagined. It will be great for these kids.”
Sherill said representatives from KaBOOM! in Washington, D.C., would come down and build the playground in one day. They would also incorporate local volunteers and get the students involved.
“This playground will be a special blessing for the students,” Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams said. “I know Patricia, Ethan and Edgar will live on here in the teachers’ and students’ lives for years to come.”
Rosalyn Fabianke, Congressional District 4 representative of the Governor’s Commission on Physical Fitness and Sports, also pledged the support of the commission to help in any way they could to make the playground at PCES a reality.
PCES Principal Jackie Ergle said she was overwhelmed by the support for a project that meant so much to her and would mean so much to her sudents.
“I know this is something Patricia would have been so proud of,” Ergle said. “Even though there is still devastation all around the school, here on the school’s campus, the kids can forget about all of that and just enjoy being children.”