Nearly four years after the tragic abduction and murder of 12-year-old Zina Linnik, classmates, faculty and community members of the McCarver Elementary student will gather Friday to celebrate Play in Peace Day and park improvements that have been made in Linnik’s memory.
When the McCarver Peacemakers and staff teamed up with Metro Parks Tacoma, the Greater Metro Parks Foundation and members of the Hilltop community, they focused their efforts on two parks that bookend Linnik’s Hilltop neighborhood: historic Wright Park, located near the Stadium District, and McCarver Park, located adjacent to McCarver Elementary School.
The children’s vision was to develop a park reflecting Linnik’s Ukrainian heritage and filled with activities she loved. As their vision began to unfold, urban planning students from the University of Washington were brought into the classroom to work with the elementary students and park Planning staff to create design plans reflecting their vision.
Their design concept for McCarver Park included unique Ukrainian inspired art, including huge mosaic eggs. The park’s “Aerial Aquarium” represents not only Linnik’s heritage, but also her love for Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The center of the park would boast a reading circle, another art laden space where visitors are inspired to crack open a book and enjoy one of Linnik’s favorite pastimes, or reflect on the words of the poem written in her memory and etched into the tiles of the seating wall. There would be a diverse playground featuring high tech interactive play equipment, juxtaposed alongside a long time playground favorite that Linnik loved to play — tetherball.
At Wright Park, there would be a beautiful new sprayground to replace the aging wading pool and playground equipment that children and families could play on together.
It was a vision with an estimated $3.5 million budget for construction and an endowment to help support the long-term care of the new community resources. Starting with a limited budget of just under $326,000 available from the 2005 Park Improvement Bond and the support of the Greater Metro Parks Foundation, the children established the Zina Linnik Project and began selling tee-shirts and hosting fundraising activities. They studied government and boarded buses traveling to the state capital as well as Tacoma City Council, Metro Parks Board and Tacoma School Board meetings to advocate for support from their elected leaders. Those were the first steps in what would become a profound educational journey.
Faculty throughout McCarver Elementary adopted an innovative approach to teaching. They welcomed professors and students from local universities, park planners, grant writers and others into the school to engage the children in unprecedented hands on learning opportunities that covered a gamut of topics from park planning, environmental restoration, construction, gardening, to Web design and social media. At the heart of it all, the children honed individual skills in writing and public speaking, gained an understanding of their personal power to shape the world in which they live by uniting in meaningful relationships with their community, and set long-range goals to attend college.
The Zina Linnik Project at McCarver has become a model for civic-engagement and innovation in education and Play in Peace Day will serve as an annual event to celebrate the partnerships that have been forged through this project.
For more on the Zina Linnik Project, visit metroparksfoundation.org/zina-linnik-project.