This article was originally published in the winter 2013 Harker Quarterly.
A beautiful fall day provided the perfect backdrop for the 2013 Harker Harvest Festival, the school’s 63rd annual Family & Alumni Picnic. As in previous years, the event was held on the middle school campus, but faithful picnic-goers surely noticed the fresh and fun changes to this family-oriented day. The multipurpose room held extravagant silent auction packages, offering art, outings with teachers, gift baskets and more.
The cafetorium was kept wide open for laser tag, and lower school children were spotted ducking behind blinds scattered through the room as they tried to catch each other with light beams. The blacktop was, as always, the site of carnival game booths. Here families tried their luck at skill games, attempting to knock down, hit, fill, pop or ring objects for prize tickets.
The Pig Pong Toss was a wall of cute painted piggies with boxes for noses, which kids tried to fill with Ping-Pong balls. At another popular booth, kids threw paint on Frisbees as they spun around, resulting in fun and swirly souvenirs. Around the edges of the blacktop were many fun activities to tempt kids of all ages.
A petting zoo with goats and ducks, pony rides, bounce slides, a dunk tank and more attracted crowds; and, new this year, old-fashioned tricycle and sack races kept both kids and adults giggling. Katie Florio, kindergarten teacher, enjoyed the trike races: “It’s great to see all the kids out having fun with their families and getting to play with all their teachers.” As Florio alluded to, the structure of the day was changed to allow teachers more time to hang out with their students, and intense games of foosball, Ping-Pong and basketball were played out in the gym. Lower school math teacher Diane Plauck laughed, “I started my day having a Ping-Pong match with one of [my students]. He beat me, but still it was fun.”
“It’s really great for the lower school and middle school kids to have a chance to play Ping-Pong or foosball with teachers, to really change up the dynamic of how they interact with one another,” said upper school science teacher Gary Blickenstaff. Aside from the opportunity to bond with their teachers, students also enjoyed meeting up with their friends in a fun and welcoming environment.
“I like that most of my friends come here and we just have fun. It’s basically a huge carnival,” said student volunteer Calvin Kocienda, grade 10, who worked the laser tag area with his friends in the Robotics Club. Classmate Alyssa Crawford liked that the Harvest Festival “brings all the different grades together.” Parent volunteers also had a big impact on the event’s success, running game booths, selling tickets and serving food to the hundreds of attendees. “I just think it’s a great opportunity to help the children and help the school,” said parent Tracy Baeckler (Alexandra, grade 5), who has volunteered since her daughter was a kindergartner.
Themed around a fictional Harker Thanksgiving Parade, the student show was a huge hit, highlighting dozens of kids from nine performing arts troupes. Mallika Vashist, grade 6, who performed with the choir group Dynamics, enjoyed that the Harker Harvest Festival offered her the chance to perform in front of a large audience. “Performing in front of a bunch of people is really fun for me,” she said.
Making cameos in the show were Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs, as Cookie Monster; Head of School Chris Nikoloff as a giant turkey; and Butch Keller, upper school head, as a big SpongeBob SquarePants “float.” Other administrators as well as the IT and facility departments also walked the stage in the “parade,” to a warm and appreciative round of applause from spectators. Alumni gathered at their shady grove to reunite and chat, and they had new neighbors this year: the preschool was
a welcome presence at this long Harker tradition, with teachers and the newest Eagles having fun in a pumpkin patch. Preschool teacher Tanya Burrell, enjoying her first family picnic, said that not only was it “exciting to see [the preschoolers] outside of the school setting, we’re seeing them explore some of the other booths. It’s nice that they’re part of the larger Harker community.” Indeed, this event truly captured the community spirit that is so much a part of Harker.