Two things are likely to happen when you walk into the gym for the annual Community Night event at the John Kennedy School in Batavia, N.Y. One, you’ll get to know other families and school leaders while connecting with business owners and civic groups from around town. And two, you won’t be able to get the Sesame Street refrain “These are the people in your neighborhood” out of your head after meeting teachers, firemen, policemen, and a postman or two, among others.

The tradition of Community Night, which is held free of charge annually in September, was started six years ago by the John Kennedy School parent group. “We always do it to welcome new families and kindergartners,” explains parent group president Jen Houseknecht. “It’s a great way to start off the year.”

More than 50 families attended this year’s event, which featured about 20 booths geared toward helping families connect to resources and services in Batavia and beyond. Members of the Kiwanis Club used the night to advertise an upcoming pancake breakfast. Meanwhile, a program director from the YMCA ran a jumping exercise using Hula-Hoops for the children and provided information about the organization’s offerings. Representatives from a local credit union shared information on a kids’ banking program, through which students open a savings account and conduct their transactions right at school.

Another booth featured that night was the Kennedy School’s very own “post office”: Parent group leaders provided stationery for moms and dads to write letters to a student or staff member; student post office workers then delivered the notes to the recipients at school the next Monday. Additionally, Houseknecht says, “Our parent group set up a booth with a showcase of all of our fundraisers and events that we put on throughout the year.” Attendees could look through the group’s event photos as well as sign up for various volunteer opportunities.

Students could bust out cutouts from a board during a karate demonstration or sign up for lessons from a local dance company to learn how to bust a move. There was face-painting, a tattoo station, and even a chance to be a puppeteer with a local puppet theater.

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And just in case the kids got restless inside the building, there were plenty of cool machines outside: A local contracting company set up a bulldozer for kids to climb into; there was also a fire truck and an ambulance. Students who checked out the ambulance even got a blown-up exam glove balloon as a memento.

Houseknecht says her parent group’s goal is to get even more families and organizations out to Community Night next fall. “We’re trying to make it more attractive to 5th graders [and their families] especially,” she says. “We hope to recruit more businesses, nonprofits, and services from our community.”

John Kennedy School Parent Group

Batavia, N.Y.
380 students, grades K-5
$12,000 annual budget

Community Night
An event showcasing local businesses and vendors, civic groups, firefighters, and police officers plus free food, games, and activities for families

One stop does it all: Parents appreciate the convenience of Community Night, which brings a wide variety of Batavia’s resources right to the school. Families can sign up their children for everything from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to programs at the local YMCA to dance and karate lessons.

Community planners: PTO president Jen Houseknecht says the parent group has Community Night “down to a science.”?The fall 2010 event took about four weeks to plan and cost $450, which covered free pizza and soft drinks for attendees. The PTO keeps a running list of community organizations and vendors that have participated over the years.

It’s a volunteer affair: About 15 parent volunteers were on hand to serve food and run activities, Houseknecht says. Next year, the PTO may recruit some of Kennedy’s 5th graders to assist with the games and to attract more families of older children.