Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), Perry Township Schools and various community organizations will present this year’s Family Fun Filled Back to School Carnival Celebration on Thursday, Aug. 23 at the IPS Coleman Academy for Boys and Girls.
Sheryl Wise, a social worker employed by Perry Township Schools, developed the concept for the celebration in 1999 in response to the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, which followed a year that witnessed a record level of homicides on the streets of Indianapolis.
“When it comes to violent crime affecting our youth, we have to be committed to turning it around, because it has no address, it goes everywhere,” said Wise, her softspoken, diplomatic demeanor converting to an urgent sense to convey awareness. “It can be done, but many of these kids are here with no adult supervision. Back in the day it was agreed upon on every level – from federal to local – that we needed to keep our kids safe because they are our priority and future. What happened to that?”
When Wise presented the first back to school celebration at Forest Manor Middle School more than 3,000 youth, parents and community leaders attended, motivated in large part by the sharp increase in violent crime.
“Everybody was working together in an effort to figure out what we could do to stop the crime and loss of life,” Wise said.
She predicted, however, that after the initial shock most people would apathetically return to “business as usual” until the next jump in homicides. As local murders reach another high this year, her idea of a positive back to school event is as timely now as it was eight years ago.
The stated purpose of the Family Fun Filled Back to School Carnival Celebration is to encourage parents to become active in their child’s educational process, direct families to helpful community resources and bring together various community partners who can make a positive difference in the lives of those families.
Although definitely dedicated to keeping youth out of trouble and parents engaged, the celebration is not designed as a serious or boring affair. It is often described as a “party with a purpose and a partnership with a plan.”
Families are able to have fun numerous ways during the celebration by enjoying food (usual staples are barbecue ribs, baked beans, potato salad, and peach cobbler), carnival style games with prizes, clowns for kids, chess matches courtesy of the popular Chess Academy Parham, various music artists taking their place on stage, and personalities from Radio One stations WTLC-AM (1310), WHHH-FM (96.3), and WTLC-FM (106.7) spinning records.
Families can also benefit from free immunizations, free haircuts and the numerous booths where they can receive information about services provided by various vendors and community service organizations.
The Family Fun Filled Back to School Carnival Celebration is presented in partnership with the Martindale-Brightwood and Forest Manor neighborhood associations, IPS, the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Indiana Minority Business Magazine, Family Fun Filled Inc., and the stations of Radio One.
Local businesses have also lined up to support the back to school celebration through the donation of resources. United Water, a company that provides wastewater treatment services, has pledged to offer more than 10,000 bottles of water so that participants can stay cool on what will likely be a warm day.
The Family Fun Filled Back to School Carnival Celebration has been praised for its effectiveness in helping the community. The Indiana House of Representatives has passed a resolution honoring Wise and her volunteer team of organizers for the celebration.
Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, author of the resolution, lauded the event as a special opportunity to increase parental involvement in education and strengthen the collaborative efforts of churches, schools and community efforts in protecting the future of children.
“In a school district where 15 percent of schools have no active parent groups to raise money, chaperone field trips, or lead projects, this event allows educational resources to be shared, health and wellness issues addressed and cultural awareness to be highlighted,” Crawford said.
Officials in IPS and Perry Township work closely together to ensure that the celebration is a success, offering rides for anyone who can reach a school in those districts and be picked up by a bus.
Former Perry Township Schools Superintendent Dr. Douglas Williams has thanked Wise for creating the celebration, and IPS Superintendent Dr. Eugene White praised it as a way to motivate the community to live up to the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.”