If there’s one day that elementary students at Rocky Mountain Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., just can’t miss, it’s Oct. 1. In fact, faculty and PTO leaders are counting on them to come to school—literally. That’s the date sanctioned by the legislature in Colorado (and several other states) for school administrators to tally all students to determine official enrollment figures. The count is done for school funding purposes; if a student is not physically present this day, the school doesn’t receive per-pupil funding for the student (currently around $6,000). So to encourage full attendance on this day, parent group leaders and faculty have turned Count Day into a festive celebration at the school. And let’s just say one would have to be pretty absent-minded to miss it.

The first Count Day celebration took place in 2010. “The kids enjoyed it immensely,” says former PTO president Jessica Norsky. Norsky, who now serves on the school’s board of directors, and current PTO president Bobbi Falkenberg assisted then-principal Kelly Taylor in putting together a staff basketball game as part of the Count Day activities. Teachers and staff went all out and dressed up in zany outfits, which really tickled the kids. “It’s great for the students to see the teachers take an active, fun role at school,” Norsky says. All 500 K-5 students were treated to a pizza lunch courtesy of the parent group; they also received neat basketball-theme gift bags from Taylor.

For the October 2011 Count Day, planners organized a half-mile walk to school for students and parents in the morning, then a staff volleyball game in the afternoon. They also incorporated a “Drop Everything and Read” day to promote literacy. Students got to roll out of bed and come to school wearing their pajamas, and they brought along a blanket and some books for the occasion. “Parents and teachers provided snacks, and our students spent the whole day curled up with [their] favorite books,” Norsky says.

Bigger and louder fun came during the afternoon assembly period with the high-spirited volleyball game. Principal James Miller, whose term at the school began this past August, served as the game’s official referee. “One teacher was dressed in a scuba diving outfit,” he says. “Can you imagine playing volley-ball and going for a ball in that getup?” Miller says he had fun hamming it up courtside with the crowd and got a big kick out of watching the students cheer on the staff. Earlier in the day, he also read to several classrooms during DEAR time.

Miller, who had been retired for five years before coming to Rocky Mountain, says that the supportive culture among parents and the school has been a “rejuvenation.” He’s amazed at all the ways parents are connecting and volunteering at school, such as coordinating the annual Trunk or Treat event and popping corn for students every Wednesday. He sees the school’s new tradition of Count Day as yet another opportunity. “Just to have an avenue to participate...it’s wonderful,” he says. “I see how this atmosphere can change attitudes. When parents are involved like this, they are more invested and empowered and tell you how wonderful the school is.”

Rocky Mountain Classical Academy PTO

Colorado Springs, Colo.
500 students, grades K-5
$20,000 annual budget

Count Day
A daylong celebration for students and staff that coincides with the school’s annual enrollment census

Infinite volunteers: Count Day is just one of many events that Rocky Mountain’s PTO engages parents with. Jokes former president Jessica Norsky, “We have daily presence at the school so much that our staff often asks where do we keep our cots, and we were granted our own room.”

Crunching the numbers: The PTO spent about $500 on pizza for the 2010 Count Day celebration. “This year, we did a cookie party for every class that had full attendance,” says current PTO president Bobbi Falkenberg. It cost about $80 to treat the 14 classes that had full attendance on the 2011 Count Day.

What really counts: Although it’s important to get students to show up for the official census, leaders have found that Count Day is especially significant for other reasons, too. “The greatest aspect of this event is not the perfect attendance, it is all the different components that are working together to benefit the children, the teachers, and the school,” Norsky says. “All grades, including kindergarten, partici-pate and look forward to this special day. Each year they’re getting more excited, so it can only get better.”