It’s a hectic atmosphere at Central Park Elementary’s Grandparents Day, but most everyone is having a good time.
Some students lead their grandparents or other family members into the school’s library with the hope they’ll buy them a book with the $5 coupons they receive that day, while others take them outside to play four-square during recess.
While taking a break, one student pulls on his grandma’s jacket and asks her to smuggle a cookie from the refreshment area into her purse.
The building is crowded by the huge groups of small students mingled in with their grandparents.
Grandparents Day at Central Park Elementary is a big deal. It’s a long-running event, going back decades. Central Park’s new principal, John Crabb, didn’t know how many. This year’s event, held last Friday, was especially well-attended, with 237 grandparents, family and special friends registered.
It’s a day where students and their grandparents exchange stories about school, discuss what the grandparent was into during school, and generally spend time together.
Early in the morning, the gymnasium is packed with grandparents sitting at the lunch tables, essentially wall-to-wall.
After convening in the gym, the grandparents enter the classrooms and sit at small tables with their grandkids, going through some basic interviews discussing what their favorite subjects and hobbies were as a kid. A few grandparents said they’re surprised how high-tech elementary classes are nowadays.
In a sixth-grade classroom, Alice Lewis smiles as she watches her granddaughter work on a laptop and submit a Google Doc summary of what appeared to be a graphic novel account of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
“I work in a data center, so her doing this is really impressive to me,” said Lewis, who drove down from Seattle to attend. “Everything we do is computerized and technical. It’s the future, and I’m so happy they’re learning these things.”
For students who either don’t have grandparents or they can’t come, there are often parents or some family friends who come in their place. Third-grade student Kalli Williams said she likes that the event is inclusive to help ensure no one gets left out.
“Some people don’t have grandparents, and so it’s nice to have someone else here so they don’t feel alone,” said Williams.
The day isn’t very regimented, and allows for children to wander about with their family. Debbi Ross, who has two grandsons in the school, said she appreciates that classes are more freeform and creative than when she was little.
“When I was in school, you sat in your desk and didn’t move, it felt like work, work, work all the time,” said Ross. “I think they engage the kids now in a way that helps their creativity.”
With the recent financial difficulties many Washington schools have faced and some of the cuts that have come down, Ross said she hopes Central Park never gets closed down.
“It’s such a unique school out here, and I love it, I hope they never take it away,” said Ross.
This was the first grandparents day for Crabb, who said he’s heard a lot about the event since he first started, and was greatly looking forward to it.
“Every culture has a way to honor its elders, and this is Central Park’s way to honor elders and the ones who have been there and cared for us many times,” said Crabb. “We have many grandparents who act as parents again, so it’s really special to do this.”
Chris Macht, who was visiting his girlfriend’s two kids in school that day, said he likes being there to support them, but that he also likes the nostalgic feeling of getting to eat cafeteria lunches again.
“I’m just happy to support them and have fun,” said Macht. “And I mean, come on, it’s not often you get to come back and eat school food again.”