Marysville Mayor talks to students about graffiti at Cascade Elementary

After receiving a letter complaining about graffiti on their playground, Mayor Dennis Kendall paid a visit to the third-grade summer school class of Cascade Elementary teacher Toni Aldrich.  -
After receiving a letter complaining about graffiti on their playground, Mayor Dennis Kendall paid a visit to the third-grade summer school class of Cascade Elementary teacher Toni Aldrich.
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MARYSVILLE Cascade Elementary School teacher Toni Aldrich said she talked to her class a lot of about the power of words.

In this case, the words in question certainly got some attention.

Sitting adjacent to Cascade on 100th Street NE is the Fantasy Fortress, a large, wooden, aging, but popular play structure used by both Cascade students and youngsters from around the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, some visitors to the Fortress like to leave behind some unwanted reminders of their time there. Students and school staff say graffiti much of it vulgar words and drawings appears on the wooden Fortress almost daily.

"We were surprised that people would come and destroy the playground that we play on everyday and we don't want them to do it anymore," declared Cascade student Jessica Johnston, 8.

According to Cascade summer school Principal Kelly Sheward, the school's third-grade students became especially disturbed when vulgarities appeared not only the Fantasy Fortress, but also on the side of their school building.

"It's not appropriate for little kids because the more they hear it, the more they're going to say it," said another Cascade student, Shantelle Perez, 8.

Eventually, students became upset enough with the continued vandalism that with the help of their teacher, they decided to tell somebody about it. That somebody was Mayor Dennis Kendall.

"They just don't feel as safe as I think they should," said Kendall, who after receiving a letter about the graffiti from Cascade's third-graders, decided to pay those letter writers a surprise visit during summer school classes on July 30. He definitely caught his young audience off-guard.

Johana DeLatorre, 8, was one of the students sent to greet Kendall at the school office.

"I was shaking when I saw him," she said. "I couldn't believe it."

Aldrich wrote the actual letter that went to Kendall, but with plenty of input from her students. She sent the letter to Kendall because, even though school maintenance staff paints over the graffiti on a regular basis, she wasn't sure who is ultimately responsible for the upkeep or policing of Fantasy Fortress. Both the school and the Fortress sit outside of incorporated Marysville.

"I thought, even though it's outside our jurisdiction" Kendall said, "why not spend 15 minutes talking to them."

He said he promised the students he is working with Snohomish County leaders on solving graffiti problems. While he may not have shared this information with the students, Kendall said he also brought the situation to the attention of school Superintendent Larry Nyland as well as the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

While both Aldrich and Sheward said the problem has not disappeared, when a reporter visited on Aug. 7, there was no fresh graffiti easily visible on the Fantasy Fortress.

There was, however, plenty of evidence of previous vandalism. Like bandages covering wounds, swathes of paint cover various spots on the large play structure. Able to get into smaller areas within the Fortress, Sheward said kids routinely find graffiti the maintenance crews miss.

She also added those crews and other staff as well as kids regularly find cigarette butts, pills and other adult oriented trash.

"The custodians come out every day and they try to clean things up," Sheward said.

While no one has offered any immediate solutions to the problems at Fantasy Forest, the youngsters at Cascade will have a new playground next year.

While they will still use Fantasy Forest, the Cascade PTA joined with the Marysville Rotary on Aug. 9 to build a new play facility behind the school. The PTA's Annette Hamilton said a ribbon cutting is planned for the new play area on Aug. 28 when Cascade holds its "Welcome Back to School Night."

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