On an evening last October, children inside Grant School in Wausau, Wisconsin, sat in tents with lights dimmed and listened to teachers read books by flashlight. Rotating to a new tent for a different tale every ten minutes, the "camping" atmosphere grabbed their attention and got them excited about reading. The event was one of four Families And Children Together (FACT) Nights, which invite parents and students to share in a free meal and spend quality time together as they join in reading or math activities.
"While the students enjoyed their activity, parents were back in the gym listening to some background about the reading programs that take place at our school," explained parent partnership coordinator Wendy Hazuga. "After the ten-minute presentation, parents were encouraged to ask questions, connect with other parents, or join their children at the planned activity for the evening. We also set up tables with information and examples of work being done in the classrooms at each grade level."[content block]
Each FACT Night begins with a free meal made and served by faculty members. A committee that includes Hazuga and the school's principal organizes the nights, and teachers volunteer to help with one event per year. Staff members help out in lieu of parents so that they and their kids can spend the evening as a family. The meal is designed to encourage parents to connect with their children. Door prizes are awarded as an incentive to attend.
"We send out two invitations for each FACT Night," said Hazuga. "The first is put in our bi-weekly school newsletter, and then another invitation is sent home with students a week before the FACT Night to encourage more families to sign up. The second invitation has become a very useful way to attract more families."
The event planners have found that separating the parents and students briefly allows the parents to concentrate on the information school representatives provide about their math or reading curriculum. The students move on to a fun activity or craft project while parents remain seated in the gymnasium after their meal.
"In the past, when we provided informational presentations for parents in another room, we struggled to get the parents to join us," reported Hazuga. "So instead of asking them to move, we came to them with the information. The presentations are kept very brief so parents don't feel overwhelmed with too much information. This change in the format worked well for us, and we want to continue with it."
Another component of the reading night was a "Used Book Give Away." The school collects used books throughout the year, and everyone who attends a reading-themed night can take two or three of those books to add to their home library.
Math nights have featured games that reinforce counting, pattern recognition, and money arithmetic, as well as math-related crafts.
FACT Nights are one component of Grant School's improvement-plan goals, and Hazuga says that the faculty has fully embraced and supported the program.
"Staff members must play a big role in these family nights," she added. "It takes a lot of work to provide a meal, which includes preparation and clean-up. Classroom teachers also provide items to display at each of the nights. The teachers are on hand to answer questions, make presentations, and run crafts and activities with the kids. It really takes the entire school to make these nights a success."