Game Show Network, beware! There’s some stiff competition brewing at the Anna C. Scott Elementary in Leonia, N.J. For the past three years, the Home and School Association has been producing its own versions of classic television game shows. During Family Entertainment Night, one of the town’s former mayors takes on the role of ’70s-era game show host. In no time at all, he has an audience of parents, students, teachers, and administrators laughing and cheering as he barrages “celebrity” teacher-contestants with questions about the school and pop culture.
The Anna C. Scott Elementary HSA began sponsoring Family Entertainment Night in 2001. “I think the whole thing got started because of a casual comment like ‘Wouldn’t it be fun for the kids to see the teachers on stage and under a little pressure to answer questions?’ recalls Patti Kennelly, the education committee cochair who masterminded the event with Brenna Mahoney, fundraising cochair. “It was a way to shake things up a bit and get away from teachers always being in the role of teachers. The kids love it because the teachers’ roles are reversed.”
During that first year, the game show format was a takeoff of The Newlywed Game dubbed “The Schoolywed Game.” Hamming it up as Bob Eubanks, Judah Zeigler, the town’s quick-witted, 37-year-old former mayor, asked four two-person teams of teachers and administrative staff members a series of open-ended and multiple-choice questions that included:
- “If your partner could hoard one type of school supply, what would it be?”
- “Which TV character best describes your partner: Niles Crane, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Steve from Blues Clues, Judge Judy, or The Rock?”
- “If your partner were missing, where in the school would you be most likely to find him?
- “If your partner were a pop star, would he be Ricky Martin, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Angelica Pickles, or Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs?”
- “What does your partner do when the fire bell rings: Run out screaming, zip everyone’s coat and put on all mittens and hats, call 911, or leave in an orderly fashion?”
The first-time event was such a hit that the Home and School Association asked Kennelly and Mahoney to do it again. They were happy to oblige and produced “Family Feud” in 2002 and “The Match Game” earlier this year.
“What makes the evening a success are the unscripted moments, the spontaneity,” points out Kennelly. “The funniest things seem to come from questions about the cafeteria and the school nurse. The audience just waits for some gross, funny, or outrageous answer.”
Ultimately, what started on a whim has evolved into an evening of friendly competition and lots of school spirit.
“It’s a time for parents to come to the school with their children and have fun,” says Diane Asciutto, chairwoman of the Anna C. Scott HSA. “We don’t charge admission and don’t plan to. It’s kind of a giveback. It’s for entertainment and enjoyment, a way to get families out together for a free, fun night.
“The evening has a positive, lingering effect,” she continues. “The kids love rooting for their favorite teachers and get excited a week before the event. It builds a sense of community and helps people to see the school as a place for families to congregate.”
“It’s great for the kids and the teachers because it raises school spirit and morale,” agrees Mahoney. “Everyone gets a kick out of seeing the teachers in a different light; they are less formal than during the school day and self-deprecating. On the day after there’s always a buzz and people say, ‘I wonder what they’ll come up with for next year.’ ”
Family Entertainment Night traditionally takes place in March, a time of year when the school’s social calendar is not too busy. However, Kennelly and Mahoney start the planning process in January, with the two of them developing the concept, inviting teachers to participate, sending a save-the-date flyer, and dreaming up questions.
While the Schoolywed Game was a simple affair that involved creating T-shirts for contestants and putting tables and chairs on the stage in the auditorium, subsequent Family Entertainment Nights have been far more elaborate.
For Family Feud, Connelly’s husband, a drywall contractor with a knack for carpentry and electrical work, offered to build a “set” that closely resembled the television studio, complete with survey board, pop-up box for the question cards, buzzers, and lights. This year, he built a Match Game fit for Gene Rayburn and with modular components that can be easily stored and used again. Next year’s challenge: a set for Hollywood Squares.
Adding to the color of the evening are the tacky outfits Mahoney and Kennelly dig up for the master of ceremonies. “Judah will dress in whatever we get him,” says Kennelly. “The first year, we bought a carnival caller-type outfit at a thrift store. It had a red-and-black jacket and came with a checkered shirt and paisley tie. The year we did Family Feud, we found a powder blue tux with a ruffled shirt and some hideous color tie. It was a pathetic suit that we bought off the Internet two sizes too small. For Match Game, we managed to find a light blue leisure suit with those thick pinstripes that were popular back then.”
Of course, the highlight of the evening is the competition. Usually there are two teams of teachers, grades K-2 vs. grades 3-5. One team is captained by the principal, the other by the vice principal.
The Schoolywed Game featured 10 questions in two rounds. Family Feud had 15 questions in four rounds plus a bonus round, and Match Game had 10 questions total. Total playing time is no more than 45 minutes. “Otherwise, it’s just too much,” says Kennelly.
To date, the most difficult game for which to devise questions was Family Feud. For that game show, Kennelly and Mahoney had to conduct surveys of various segments of the school community on such topics as favorite foods served at lunch in the cafeteria, top reasons kids go to the nurse’s office, and most common excuses for being late for school.
Developing questions for Match Game was quicker and easier, since all the questions are fill-in-the-blank. For instance:
“Everyone in the science lab was going crazy the other day. They couldn’t believe that instead of dissecting a frog, they were going to dissect a (blank).”
And “SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward were eating in the cafeteria the other day when Dave brought out their lunch. When Squidward looked down and saw a hamburger on his plate, he screamed, ‘I don’t eat hamburgers, I eat (blank).’”
“The most humorous moments always seem to come from questions and answers that involve actual events at the school and the names of teachers, custodians, nurses, and other staff members,” points out Kennelly. “The key is to personalize the questions and game show as much as possible.”
As far as the budget is concerned, the Home and School Association happily budgets about $1,000 for Family Entertainment Night. That covers the cost of materials for the set, a CD of the game show’s music, the emcee’s costume, inexpensive prizes for the contestants (usually restaurant gift certificates), the warm-up act (an Austin Powers lookalike in 2002 and the creation of a five-minute video in 2003), and other incidentals. The costs are partially offset by a bake sale that follows the event.
A final element of fun is a free raffle. Upon exiting the auditorium after the game show, every audience member receives a free raffle ticket. The winners are announced during the bake sale. “We raffle 10 to 15 small prizes, things like a free lunch in the cafeteria, a dollar coupon for the bake sale, a gift certificate to the book fair, and a reserved parking spot in front of the school for the next morning,” explains Asciutto. “It makes the evening even more of a celebration.”