Nick, our custodian, put black lights into the fixtures in the library hallway around noon when the students started putting up spider webs and paper gravestones for the “Haunted Hallway.” Decorations collected throughout the day, rubber rats, black streamers, and miles of yellow caution tape. Pumpkins emerged, small and large, dotting the parts of the school where the masses would gather for ACMA’s Fall Festival Dance.
By suppertime it was a campus transformed; tables for cotton candy, popcorn, and pretzels filled the courtyard. Caramel sauce and paper boats waited for students to take advantage of the local harvest; earlier in the week my assistant, Margaret, who had put in hours helping the kids organize the dance, had poked her head in my office and let me know “I got a great deal and need to go pick up fifty pounds of apples!”
The awesomeness of that statement was in part due to the fact that at ACMA it didn’t feel out of place.
A fog machine crouched in the breezeway between what would be the Haunted Hallway and the entrance to the Quonset Hut set up for dancing.
But dancing… well, for anyone of my vintage who hasn’t had the opportunity to chaperone a dance for a while, school dances look different now. Maybe it’s that the world has changed and people now, from eleven to ninety, expect more variety, more choice, but dancing at a dance is just one sliver of what kids have to choose from.
What that meant this Friday at ACMA was a photo booth stocked with props where groups of students could ham it up and leave with a memory of a night of silliness. It meant free raffle tickets handed to everyone as they came through the front door and a grand drawing for a mini cauldron filled with candy at the end of the night.
Any dance in October invites costumes, and to do that at an art school means wild, abundant creativity. Zombies and superheroes danced with flappers and Disney Princesses. Pikachu shared popcorn with unicorns and Jedi, and my favorite conversation of the night went like this:
Me: “Great antlers.”
Student: “People have been telling me that.”
Me: “They’re right.”
In addition to the Haunted Hallway, the corn hole games (built by our theater tech students), and a steady line for cotton candy, a room had been set aside and stocked with board games for kids who wanted a break from the lights and music.
A witty and wonderful group of students invited me to play Apples to Apples, something that in a quarter century of working in schools I’ve never done at a fall dance, and a great reminder that as much fun as some students were having moving to music and scaring each other under the black light, for others a chance to gather on campus and play games was more their style (at least for part of the night).
This notion that events like a dance might be purposefully crafted to include something that everyone could enjoy, not just those who know how to move to the latest rock and roll tune, is something that strikes me as wonderful. It’s also something that I feel like I see more of every year I’m a principal.
Board games, fresh fruit, and a Haunted Hallway (and all those unexpected delights that students today add to more traditional events to make them friendlier to all) reinforce the optimism I feel whenever I work with kids.
And Friday, you could dance if you wanted to, but if you don’t dance …well, you’re still a friend of mine.