Unseasonably chilly weather couldn't dampen the cheerful mood Friday night at Parkview Elementary's 30th annual Friday Night Live. Held at Central Park Plaza, the event encouraged the students to read by engaging them in fun and imaginative activities. Every year, the event has a secret theme that is revealed only a few hours prior. This year, the Percy Jackson series and Monsters University teamed up to create the theme: Sea of Monsters University.
Over the course of the evening, from 5pm to midnight, the students partook in singing, dancing, games, music, and – of course – reading. Laden with sleeping bags and their favorite books, the students curled up together to watch the festivities begin. Teachers and parents dressed as Greek gods and monsters took the stage. As the music began, the students ran to the stage.
"The whole idea is that reading should be fun for kids," said 4th grade teacher and event organizer Greg Karas. "So we try to intertwine it with fun things like music, and food, and dancing."
Karas has worked at Parkview Elementary for 26 years. This is his last year before retiring, so the parents hatched a plan to surprise him with the unexpected arrival of former students and coworkers.
"Mr. Karas is fabulous," said parent and volunteer Brenda Civanich. "And all these students, and all these parents and all the alumni and all the teachers come out just for him. He does put the students first, it's just about the kids and what they learn, and he makes it fun. He really shows them how you can make a difference in the world. He really made a big difference I think."
Former students of Mr. Karas, many of them now in college, also came out to show their support and appreciation.
"I think he definitely cared about his students a lot," said former student Molly Tullis, who now attends Loyola University in Chicago. "He wasn't just focused on teaching the curriculum, he really focused on life lessons and morals lesson, things that carry us through the rest of our lives. I think that's why you've got college students who are here right now, because his lessons still impact us today. He made everything count for something more."
By putting on an event like Friday Night Live, Karas helps make reading a fun and practical activities for kids to enjoy for the rest of their lives.
"Readings a great focus here," said kindergarten teacher Donna Batsita. "I think it's something that's exciting! The kids look forward to it for a whole year – they don't get to do it until they're fourth or fifth graders, so this just builds like a great big mountain of excitement."
Parents agree that Friday Night Live has a huge impact on their children.
"It's their favorite thing that happens at school," said Chris Collins, a parent of one of the students participating in the event.
The excitement was almost tangible as the students rolled out their sleeping bags to begin the night. Their bright smiles belied their delight at seeing teachers and older students dressed up as characters from some of their favorite books.
"I think it gets them really excited about reading," said Civanich. "It gives them a different avenue to think about how you can apply your reading. You can read anywhere; you can have fun. It doesn't have to be homework; it doesn't have to be a bad thing. It really shows them where your imagination can take you when you read."