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Spring Family Event Ideas

Here's a sampling of PTO spring traditions from around the country. What will you do to celebrate your school community this season?

by Elaine Dohan

Turning Back the Clock

Kellie Miller, president of the parent organization at Blessed Sacrament School in Walpole, Mass., loves the chance to bring the school's families together. "We do a Family Fun Night every year to get people together, even before spring weather is really here. Last year we had a roller-skating party. We rented out a rink for the evening. The only charge to participants was for their skates. It was a big success."

This year the group has planned a sock hop at the school. They will bring in a radio station DJ "who does all the work." Everyone comes dressed to look like a character out of Happy Days. The DJ teaches dances from the '50s and runs oldies dance contests. They even set up an old-fashioned soda counter where they serve sundaes and cherry cokes and hot dogs. The big kids help the little kids, and the parents and teachers dance, too. The kids especially love dancing with their teachers.

Highlight of the Year

"It's the one event most people come out and support," says Rose Acerra, parents' organization board member at the Ocean Township Elementary School in Oakhurst, N.J., of her school's spring carnival. "People we don't see all year long come to our carnival."

The carnival is a major fundraiser for the group, and they work hard during this five-hour Saturday celebration. Parents make the games, and parents and children run booths together in one-hour shifts. The group also runs a food concession, selling hot dogs, pizzas, sodas and homemade baked goods.

Perhaps the biggest draw at the carnival is the dunking booth—yes, its victims include many of the schools' most adventurous teachers—a manicurist (for the kids!), and a professional clown who strolls through the school with balloons. Tickets are sold for all events and everyone wins something. Inexpensive and appealing prizes are ordered from the Oriental Trading catalog. The organization made more than $5,000 on that chilly Saturday in March.

Can't Wait for Spring

"We don't actually wait for good weather," confesses Virginia LaBreque, PTO president at the Sterling Memorial School in Oneco, Conn. "People start asking in January if and when we will be doing our Family Bingo Night again. In New England, by March we have cabin fever. We don't think about fundraising for this event. We just want to reconnect with our friends and neighbors after the long, cold winter."

The PTO offers the first few bingo cards free and charges only a few cents for subsequent cards. They use an old-fashioned bingo ball for calling the numbers. Prizes are all donated by local businesses. They consist of game packages, of course, complete with skittles and chips, or movie rental coupons packed with popcorn, or even dinner for four at a local restaurant. Refreshments consist of cookies—baked by the teachers—and juice.

Vanilla, Strawberry, and Picasso?

The PTO at Burke-Memorial Elementary in Medway, Mass., adds a unique twist to two common school traditions. Not content with a simple ice-cream party or a slow-moving night of showing off student projects, this group combines the two in its annual Art Walk/Ice-Cream Social.

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"We wait until the weather is finally nice," explains Lynn Doyle, a PTO board member, about their choice of timing. The art department at the school saves student art projects all year, and the artwork is hung all over the school for this special event. Ice-cream sundaes are sold at a small profit; parents get a chance to become reacquainted, and of course kids love showing off their work.

Carnival and Auction and Pizza—Oh, My!

The weather is no problem for the PTO at the Paradise Lane Charter School in Phoenix, Ariz., but folks still want to get out and celebrate in the second half of the school year. They hold their annual carnival at the school on a Friday afternoon in May. The kids stay at the school after classes and the parents join them for fun, games and a pizza supper. One year, the organization made $7,000 on the event. In addition to a pony ring, antique train ride, and dunk tank, the classes each make and run a game booth for which tickets are sold either at the door or during the preceding weeks. There's also a bake sale, a massage therapist who donates time, and a raffle of donated items, including a variety of paraphernalia from the Phoenix Suns, Cardinals, and Mustangs professional sports teams.

And that's not all! According to Paula Fry, president of the school's PTO, the biggest moneymaker is a silent auction. "We auction baskets—lots of baskets!" Each class is responsible for making a basket designed around a theme of their choice. For example, one basket is a "night out" package—including dinner for two, movie passes, and popcorn. Another might be a package containing gift certificates donated by local merchants or a basket filled with an assortment of candles. One class made a personalized quilt that had every parent in the room bidding.

Reading is FUNdamental

At Washington Elementary in Bay City, Mich., the spring event is a celebration of National Reading Month—in March. The PTO sponsors several activities in the month, all culminating in an after-school pizza party when parents are invited to school to read with their children and stay for supper.

Early in the month, according to Teresa Gill, cochair of the PTO, the PTO provides a juice and bagel breakfast for all 600 children in the school. Each classroom teacher is presented with a bundle of books to use as prizes for March reading contests. The PTO also offers a unique "book exchange"—a swap of sorts, where students bring in their own used books and where every student in the school is guaranteed at least one book to take home.

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