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4th annual moveathon

Graham Hill Elementary parent Katie Kribbs makes a chalk drawing while kids play around her during the 4th Annual SESSFA Move-A-Thon. Photo by Phil Manzano

4th annual Move-a-thon raises funds and energy

Amount raised to support south Seattle schools to be announced in June

Popcorn was popping loudly in a big machine in a corner of Graham Hill Elementary School. Kids clustered excitedly around a table with mini paper bags while Principal Rena Deese stood behind the machine and loaded in kernels. 

A few students came up to the table shyly. “Oh my gosh!” Principal Deese said. “How are you? How’s middle school?”

Heritage Night saw a full house of students and their families — as well as many middle school students who returned to their alma mater — on April 24. Second-grade teacher Sarah Dietz, who serves as the event’s main organizer, says the event is an annual school tradition that was started 20-plus years ago at Graham Hill, although it took a few years off during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Themed around the diverse cultural communities that make up Graham Hill’s student population — 73.6% of whom are students of color, according to the school report card from Washington OSPI — Heritage Night receives funds from the school’s PTA. 

It’s one of several events that hinge on money raised through the Move-A-Thon, a collective fundraiser hosted across 17 participating schools and led by the Southeast Seattle Schools Fundraising Alliance (SESSFA). The Move-A-Thon runs from April 22 to May 3 this year, with donations accepted online until May 31.

This year marks the Move-A-Thon’s fourth year of fundraising. Having gained considerable media attention since the first Move-A-Thon in 2021 for its system of collectively raising money and then distributing it across 17 participating schools with a view toward equity, SESSFA is working to strengthen its collaborative process to advocate for education reform.

According to the press release from SESSFA, the goal for this year’s Move-A-Thon is to raise a total of $500,000. As of May 1, the fundraiser has just crossed the halfway point. Students receive a pedometer to track their steps — which they can enter on the SESSFA step tracker page — and can ask friends and family members to sponsor them for filling out a bingo card with different prompts for physical activity, such as jumping rope or learning a new sports move. 



Ronan, a Graham Hill Elementary School student, scoots through an obstacle course at the school’s Move-A-Thon fundraiser. Photo by Phil Manzano

The $104 million budget shortfall facing Seattle Public Schools (SPS) for fiscal year 2024–2025 makes money raised from the Move-A-Thon especially critical this year. Reasons for the shortfall include lower numbers of students enrolled in SPS and a gap in funding from the State, according to the SPS website. Federal relief dollars for the COVID-19 pandemic now drying up also affect SPS and other districts across the country, The Seattle Times reported.

A March 2024 update from SPS notified parents and guardians that the shortfall would reduce discretionary funding available to all school principals for the next school year, as well as cause staffing changes that would slightly increase some students’ class sizes.

In December 2023, the SPS School Board adopted a resolution directing the district’s superintendent to complete a plan by May 8 to address the budget deficit and make changes to ensure all schools are supported financially. The School Board will vote on the 2024–2025 budget in early July.

Many District 7 schools, like Graham Hill, participating in the Move-A-Thon are designated as Title I-funded schools, which means they receive federal funding for the high numbers or percentages of children from low-income homes that attend their schools. 

4th annual moveathon

Children moving during Move-A-Thon at Graham Hill Elementary School on Saturday, April 27. Photo by Phil Manzano

While SESSFA has made strides each year it’s run the Move-A-Thon toward equity, redistributing wealth across schools based on a formula reviewed each year, SESSFA co-founder Christina Jiménez emphasizes the work that remains to be done. 

Collaboration continues to be a challenge because SESSFA is working with so many schools and representing close to 7,000 students, Jiménez says. Each year, SESSFA asks participating PTAs to agree to a memorandum of understanding, which sets out norms for how its work will go — such as the expectation that if a PTA raises money outside of SESSFA, it will give a percentage of the money raised back to SESSFA. 

“That’s hard,” Jiménez said. “That’s a hard conversation to talk to people about who are used to just giving money for clearly their school.” 

Arlene Williams, co-president of the Graham Hill PTA and one of the SESSFA site leaders for Graham Hill, says that for her, the choice to give to a collective fund rather than an individual school represents a decision to choose selflessness and making sure everyone has the resources they need. It should carry over from attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic of taking care of each other, she says.

“How do we keep that mindset?” Williams said. “It’s four years in, now. How do we keep thinking of others, not just ourselves? … I feel like my kids aren’t going to do well if the kids around them aren’t doing well.” 

Williams says a focus for her is building on the connections built between the 17 participating schools over the past four years to advocate for changes at the district level. “How do we continue to push for education reform?” Williams said. “How do we look at different funding models for the schools? I think that’s still something that SPS hasn’t answered in the last four years.” 

Thuy Do is a graduate of SPS herself and a small-business owner who volunteers with SESSFA to promote the fundraiser with small businesses. She says she saw how the funds raised could help a teacher afford basic school supplies for the classroom instead of having to pay for them out of pocket, and recognized that SESSFA’s model allows for the sharing of resources with schools that don’t have active PTAs or parents with the capacity to donate. 

Her son is a first grader at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary. Do says she was planning to create a plan with him once he came home with the Move-A-Thon pedometer and bingo card later that day. 

4th annual moveathon

From left, Ronan, Zander, and Hazel, students at Graham Hill Elementary School, make their way through a student-built obstacle maze at the school’s Move-A-Thon event. Photo by Phil Manzano

Mark Leonard, currently a special education instructional assistant at Graham Hill, taught third, fourth, and fifth grade at the school for 19 years. During his time at the school, he says, he saw how Heritage Night helped engage students’ families and lead them to come to other academic events.

“We had trouble getting inroads with families coming to events,” Leonard said. “Heritage Night was kind of a catapult, I think, for our school.”

4th annual moveathon

This article was re-posted with permission from the South Seattle Emerald.™’ Its mission is to amplify the authentic narratives of South Seattle.

Julia Park is a senior studying journalism and English at the University of Washington. Currently the U-District beat writer for The Daily of the University of Washington, she enjoys covering stories of culture, migration, and language in local communities. Follow her on X @thejuliastory.

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About the Author

Julia Park / South Seattle Emerald