Delmarie Kelley, Andrea Turner, & Alexis Whitfield at Peabody Elementary’s chili contest.
It’s accepted that schools with extensive parental involvement nurture successful students. But aside from ensuring that homework gets done, we serve our children best when we enlist the larger community to show up. In these four Memphis-area schools, parents and administrators put on fund-raisers that raise money, awareness, and community spirit.
Maria Montessori School Regatta • April 20
Introducing new families to a special school was also the impetus 10 years ago, when a teacher and a parent at Maria Montessori School in Harbor Town approached the faculty with an idea. Says Fletcher Golden, director of outdoor education, “I’d been out kayaking on the Wolf River Lagoon, and I saw the amphitheater and the gardens and thought, people need to know about this school’s amazing setting, and the best way to see it is from the river.”
The purpose was to connect the Harbor Town and Downtown communities with their greatest asset, the Mississippi River, and introduce new families to the school’s inclusive spirit. There’s no better example of this spirit than the Wacky Boat Race, in which contestants use huge sheets of cardboard and rolls of duct tape to construct watercraft that race on the school’s duck pond. Later, a flotilla of rubber duckies drift across the water, in a wet and squeaky raffle.
This year’s Regatta will be held on April 20th; parent-child pairs or experienced kids 12+ are welcome to race, and a limited supply of canoes and kayaks is available for rent. Fees for races, games, make-and-take art, and food sales also help raise scholarship money. All of these events are staffed by parents, teachers, and students, who collapse with their guests to enjoy live music in the amphitheater, overlooking the lagoon that inspired it all.
Snowden School CommUnity Festival • April 27
“If you’ve never set foot in your neighborhood school, you can’t make an informed decision,” said School Board member Chris Caldwell. That notion gave rise to CommUnity, a festival at Snowden School that entices families with games, a bouncy house, and a climbing wall, then serves up a dose of justified self-promotion.
The festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 27th, features performances by the marching band, dance team, and taekwondo club. The principal braves a dunk tank, and the chess club takes on all comers. Food runs from burgers to a PTA-sponsored healthy-eating zone with vegetarian chili.
Neighborhood associations partner with churches and businesses to sponsor the event. With a budget of several thousand dollars, the PTA is able to fund a day of fun, while providing a crucial “first look at Snowden” for many who might not otherwise be aware of this gem in their midst.
Peabody Elementary’s Chili Cookoff
Recruitment isn’t necessarily the goal at Peabody Elementary’s Chili Cookoff, but community fellowship is the result. The February contest raises money for capital improvements and landscaping.
Neighborhood businesses donate supplies and gift cards for a silent auction. Parents recruit teams and set up. Organizer Josh Spickler says even neighbors who aren’t Peabody parents get into the act — like the man who lives across the street from the school and weeds flower beds (though he has no children at the school) and showed up with the winning Crock-Pot of elk chili.
This year, a judging panel included neighborhood luminaries like Rick Trotter, voice of the Grizzlies, Sweetgrass chef Ryan Trimm, Young Ave. Deli’s Tiger Bryant, and Chef Tony Geraci from Memphis City Schools. The money raised (approximately $3,200) by the event funds maintaining and improving school grounds and facilities, which benefits the neighborhood as well.
Dogwood Elementary’s Read to Feed program
A sense of the larger community — the world community — was in play at Shelby County’s Dogwood Elementary this fall. Jolie Williams, Dogwood’s assistant principal, clarified that Heifer International’s Read to Feed Program was not a fundraiser for the school. Instead, friends and family pledged around a dollar for each book a child logged. Said Williams, “Some of the sponsors got slammed when kids read 80 books or so!”
One first grader read a staggering 382 books, and even the most reluctant students participated enthusiastically.
By the end, Dogwood students from kindergarten through fifth grade had devoured 17,813 books and raised over $16,000 to fight hunger in communities around the world. Using Heifer’s lesson plans as a launching point, teachers wove lessons about kids and families around the world into the curriculum. And everyone learned how much they could accomplish for themselves and others when they worked together.
These schools are just a few examples of how the larger community can enfold the schools that educate our kids. It’s true: if we all show up and do our homework, everyone wins.