By Tammy Daniels
05:15PM / Tuesday, August 01, 2023
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The annual Community Night filled the school grounds recently with music, dancing, activities, and food.
The evening is something of a culmination of the Northern Berkshire School Union's five-week summer camp that's now in its third year.
The program was funded through a $134,400 grant from the United Way Summer Step Up Program, through the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley with the support of Northern Berkshire United Way.
Jordan Rennell, the district's director of summer programming, said some of the funding from the Summer Step Up Grant was used to support the family event.
"It's really big on community engagement and family engagement and bringing people together," she said. "So this is just an opportunity for families to see some of the activities that we do and all of our staff and it's all free."
But while the evening event had funding support, all the activities were facilitated by staff who built on last year's successful evening.
"We have some things that we've repeated from last year that were a big hit. And then the staff really liked to be creative and do things," said Rennell. "So a lot of the stations were thought up by our [summer school] staff and the people who thought of them, are working them."
There were balloons and beading, face painting and fishing for winning tickets, ice cream and books. Along with a dunk tank, a musical dance duo and a hot dog dinner for all.
Rendell said it brings families together but also parents and guardians get to see and speak with the staff in the summer camp location, which they can't really do during the camp's operating hours. "This opens our campus to them," she said.
Superintendent John Franzoni said he'd seen families from the union's other schools in Florida, Rowe and Savoy.
"Jordan does a wonderful job getting the community involved. We're really proud of how much the summer program has grown over the last three years," he said. "Partnership with United Way is great. It's just wonderful to see that word of mouth spread and this year has had even more students and families of our school union."
Franzoni said this was the third consecutive year that United Way has funded the summer program and that school union has received more than $500,000 to support the NBSU Summer Step Up Program.
Parent Jocelyn Lentine was attending the Community Night with her children Austin and Ryleigh.
"This is our first time doing it this year, this is awesome," she said. "It's like going to an actual like fair."
Her daughter was also attending the summer camp and Lentine, who said Rennell was her best friend, said, "she puts on a great thing for all the kids. My daughter comes home every day saying she's had the best day. Every day is something new."
The summer camp focuses on academic and social emotional growth in the mornings from nine to noon, then switches to community engagement in the afternoon.
"So it's field trips and bringing people in and giving them experiences," said Rennell. "We go to the local lakes, we have magicians, we have musicians and we go to the museums and Ramblewild and anything that kind of is within a one hour bus ride."
She also looks for businesses or local people with which the children can immerse themselves. For example, area police who have brought K9 officers to the school, and the Clarksburg Fire Department and Public Works Department that brought equipment and gear to the school.
The camp runs from 8:30 to 3:30 and the children get breakfast and lunch and two snacks.
On Community Night, it was all fun and games as children tried to dunk each other in the dunk tank, had their faces painted as fearsome beasts and munch popcorn.
"I'm very impressed with all of the planning and the hard work that everyone has put into this," said Principal Sandra Cote. "It truly is a great event that brings the community together."