Tonight marks the second “Family First Night” in Amherst Schools. The district instituted Family First Night to give families a chance to spend time together and unwind without any school-related activities.
No homework. No school-related sports. No after-school clubs, practices or meetings.
The idea was sparked by a similar event in the Keystone Schools, said Sarah Kucbel, president of the PTO at Powers Elementary School. Kucbel led the campaign for the bond issue voters approved to build the new Powers Elementary School, on track to be open by January 2020, and works on various committees to ease the transition. During that work, she ran across the Keystone event and proposed the idea to Amherst Superintendent Steve Sayers.
“I thought, ‘What a great idea.’ I volunteer a lot in schools and in working with many of the teachers, I’ve noticed there is a completely different dynamic family than 20 years ago,” Kucbel said. “Either with single parents, or two working parents, and children starting in extracurriculars so much younger now, everyone is constantly on the go. Even parents with little ones. It used to be only parents of high schoolers who were in so many activities, but now it’s even with little ones.”
Sayers enthusiastically embraced the idea and it was decided to offer Family First Nights twice a school year — one in fall and one in spring, fit in between high school sports seasons.
“We thought it could be a small part of what we could do as a school district to help families just take a pause and focus on spending time together,” she said. “Even our staff. Everyone is encouraged when school ends and your shift is over, you go home. No one should stay over to work. Just focus on your families.”
For the district’s first night off in November, organizers approached local businesses to offer special discounts or deals to entice families to eat out, shop or participate in activities as a family, like bowling or seeing movies.
“I envisioned a handful of businesses wanting to participate,” she said. “And we had a ton. We had to have a flyer, printed front and back, in small print.”
This time around, Kucbel said, the district just encouraged those who wish to go out for the evening to support local businesses.
Kucbel said district officials plan to keep offering the Family First Nights twice a year, but hope maybe more could be added in the future. The fall event drew much appreciative support from parents, who asked for more.
“I know my kids are happiest when they can just come home and have nothing to do,” she said.