RACINE — It’s not often that you see an elementary school buzzing with activity after 4 p.m. on a weekday, but last Thursday dozens of children and their parents made their way to the cafeteria at Knapp Elementary for a potluck as part of the school’s new “First Thursdays” initiative.

When Knapp opened the doors of its new building for the first time last September, it did so as a community school aimed at serving not just students, but their families and the neighborhoods they call home.

Much in the same way First Fridays signal that it’s time to head Downtown, school leaders are hoping that the set a schedule for gatherings on the first Thursday of every month will help make it easier for parents and community members to attend.

Last year the school saw a lot of enthusiasm from parents and community partners looking to attend school events, but with those events occurring on different days of the month, it was hard to get the word out, said Jamie Racine, community schools manager at the United Way of Racine County.

“What we wanted to do (this year) is create a more consistent opportunity that was easy for families to remember,” she said.

Sponsors

The school already has partners signed up to sponsor future “First Thursdays” events, Racine said, including the Racine Art Museum, which is planning to host an art night a couple times during the school year. Next month the school, located at 2701 17th St., likely will have costume party, and in December it will host a holiday lights festival.

On Thursday Racine dished out hot dogs to attendees, as parents sat a lunch tables alongside their children and teachers. Each grade was in charge of bringing a certain kind of food to the event, Racine said. United Way paid for the hot dogs.

Third-grader Rishka Tumlinson was all smiles as she sat with her parents. Her mom, Ashlee Tumlinson, said she enjoyed the chance to meet the parents.

Asked for her thoughts about the potluck, second-grader Lilly Stevenson gave a thumbs up and then continued devouring grapes.

“I enjoy the school bringing families together,” said her mother, Tiffany Lott-Stevenson. “It’s a blessing to see the teachers here.”

Parental support

For Directing Principal Rich Wytonick, a Knapp alumnus, the events are just one more way to draw families into the school to create the sense of community the school is trying to build.

The events are also designed to be a showcase for work completed by students in the school’s after-school program. The United Way of Racine County recently received a federal Community Learning Centers grant to help fund the program, which will help the school meet some of its academic goals.

“We know we have a very finite timeline in terms of getting certain things done and this is only going to help us by getting that support from the parents,” Wytonick said. Knapp is one of 11 Unified schools that received a failing grade from the state for 2015-2016 school year, the year before the community school model was introduced.

“All of these programs together are just fantastic. It is something that I wish every school would have access to,” he said.

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