By Brittany Greene, IPLI Mentor and Principal of Spencer Elementary
There is an even more pressing need to support parent involvement with the changes to the education world in the past 19 months. If your school community is anything like mine, your parents are not allowed to visit inside the school during the school day, and in some cases, after the school day. As educators, we know there is research to support student achievement growth when healthy parent involvement is present. Unfortunately, when you can not have parents giving of their time and resources, that can strain one of the ways that schools are meant to be utilized.
There has been a tradition of parents eating lunch with their students in my school community at Spencer Elementary. Pre-COVID, I might have two to ten parents eating with their children in each lunch period on any given day. Our kids enjoyed their visitors, and our parents enjoyed getting to see their children during the day. This wonderful tradition has not been able to happen for us since March of 2020.
Our staff noticed this change, and we came together to generate ideas about keeping the school as the hub of positivity in the community. We thought, “If the parents can’t come to the kids, let’s bring the kids to the parents!” Thus, creating a Picnic with Our Peeps. Spencer Elementary spans two town blocks and has a large lawn in front of the school. We also have four – thirty-minute lunch periods. Splitting the week up into grade levels with a thirty-minute gap in between allows for one set of parents to leave and another set to enter. For example, Monday will be for first and fourth graders only. First-grade lunch starts at 10:45, and fourth-grade lunch starts at 11:45. Then, on Tuesday, we have another set of grade levels to celebrate. When the “peeps” arrive, they can bring blankets, camp chairs, and of course, lunch for their child(ren).
Students can invite anyone they would like to attend. Parents notify the teacher who is attending. The teachers then send students outside during their lunch to picnic with their peeps. Administrators and counselors stand outside to supervise, though we rarely have to intervene with anything. We ask that parents keep their child(ren) in one spot, safe away from the street in front of the school. We ask that they do not let them run around or join other groups. They do a fantastic job of keeping it orderly. With our younger grades, the classroom teacher will often bring the rest of the class outside and set them up on a blanket or two while the others sit with their peeps. After lunch, administrators, counselors, and a few teachers who may also be eating outside line the students up and walk them out for recess.
When we started Picnic with Our Peeps last year, our parents fell in love with it, and it is quickly becoming a once a month, good weather, SES tradition. We want our parents to see the beautiful things we do inside our school buildings, but when we can’t, let’s do something different and bring the kids to them.