Rebekah Daubert, an eighth grade English/English Language Arts (ELA) teacher at Lebanon Middle School, can often be seen out and about on Friday evenings in the community with a group of teens from the middle school. These Friday evening activities are known as “Fun Friday” and they may be held once or twice a month throughout the school year.
Fun Friday activities have included Art Walk hosted by the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts, doing arts and crafts including a tie-dye party, eating in a sit-down restaurant, learning the history of Lebanon, and theatre experiences. Daubert said the upcoming Fun Friday, to be held tonight, will be a T-shirt pillow craft that students will create using an old T-shirt they bring to the craft studio.
“Kids need safe, adult-supervised activities on the weekend that connect them with community resources. Fun Friday gives them a safe place to be and experiences they may not have on their own,” she said, “I was lucky, my parents took me to do a lot of things. While they may like to provide those experiences for their kids, some parents may be new to the area and not familiar with what the community offers, or they may work second or third shift and not be available to take their kids, or they may not have the financial resources to do so.”
Daubert said Fun Friday grew out of a project some of her students tackled near the end of the school year five years ago when she introduced Genius Hours. “It’s (Genius Hours) a concept that originated with the tech giant Google—they allow employees to work on a project that interests them,” she said. “What Google found is that allowing employees time to pursue their passion increases productivity and creativity. In the classroom Genius Hour projects help students learn about research, and it’s a way for them to get connected to their community.”
She said the group of students five years ago decided they’d like to make a difference in the lives of kids in the community. “They were concerned about the students who were not involved in sports or other school activities. They wanted to provide those students with an activity or something to do,” Daubert said.
After a bit of brainstorming they decided to host a game day for middle school students. The event was held on a Saturday at the school’s stadium. It was supervised by Daubert along with some other teachers and staff. Games included volleyball, basketball, tag and cornhole.
She said about 80 students attended the event. “Students attending the event had a great time—some of them hadn’t had an opportunity to play cornhole so they learned something new. The kids that organized it were pleased that they could provide a fun time to fellow students,” she said.
The positive experience and the fact that it was well-received led her to take it a step further the next school year and host activities on Friday evenings. “It helps that I’ve lived in Lebanon my whole life and know a lot of people in the community,” Daubert said.
She explained that she choose Fridays since there’s often a lot going on in downtown Lebanon. Art Walk has been a favorite activity as was the Karaoke Night at The Connect and the Bob Ross Paint Night at Scott Church’s Living Room. A number of activities have been held at Re: Create Arts Initiative.
“We had a lot of people helping out at the Karaoke event. One of the neat things about Fun Friday is that so many people in the community come together to get it done,” Daubert said, “Some of the people that help are as excited to lend a hand as the kids are to participate in the experience.”
She said many Fun Friday activities are free, but others may have a nominal cost that she tries to keep at or below $5. “Having a small fee periodically teaches students that if there’s something they want to do, they may have to budget their money and perhaps save for it,” she said adding that students also need a signed permission slip to participate in Fun Friday.
There’s no set Friday for the activities such a specific Friday of the month, Daubert said the schedule depends on what’s happening in the community. She said this year she’s had additional input with coordinating Fun Friday activities. The school district now has a Communities in Schools Pennsylvania community coordinator—Guillermo Barroso.
Communities in Schools Pennsylvania (CISPA) is the state affiliate of the nationwide Communities in Schools program. According to CISPA’s website, Communities in Schools is the nation’s largest dropout prevention organization bringing coordinated, integrated student services into public schools to meet the needs of at-risk students. The website indicates that the organization’s mission is “to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life”.
Barraso said there are a variety of benefits from the Fun Friday activities. “It opens their eyes about their community. They also learn about art and culture,” he said, “it’s also a way for students and faculty to interact on another level. For me, it’s been a great way to interact with students.”
And while the events are definitely fun, there’s often an educational component. Daubert said a visit to a coffee shop also served as a lesson in coffee shop etiquette, while a visit to a theatre event also was an opportunity to discuss etiquette at live performances. “These are great social skills,” she said.
Her first Fun Friday group of students are now high school juniors. “When they see me, they ask if I’m still doing First Fridays and they share a memory of their favorite activity. They they’ll tell me something awesome they have going on—honor roll, honors classes, part-time job. It’s incredible for me to hear how well many of them are doing when I know how much they struggled in middle school,” Daubert said, It’s nice thinking Fun Friday contributed to their success in some way.”
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