by Bill Bush
HESSTON—Ukuleles, donuts, a ball rack, and water fountains.
Those are some of the items that Hesston Elementary Parents, or H.El.P, has purchased for the elementary school recently.
H.El.P is basically a PTO group—several parents who meet with Hesston Elementary School principal Alisa Krehbiel and a teacher once a month—that makes sure teachers have what they need, plans and organizes events, and determines how to spend fundraiser money.
Last year they purchase new water fountains with bottle filling stations to allow students to easily fill water bottles. This year they purchased a ball rack for the gym and ukuleles for the music program.
According to Vanessa Grieser, events coordinator for H.El.P, the music teacher wanted something different, with a guitar-like feel, for the students to branch out and learn. She said that someone built a rack to hold the ukuleles.
“It’ll be kind of fun next year and students can maybe learn how to play the ukulele,” Grieser said.
In addition to purchasing items for the school, H.El.P sponsors events for students and parents.
Each winter they host a movie night, where they make popcorn and show a movie in the gym. Everyone brings blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags to spread out on.
Each year they host a donuts with mom and a donuts with dad morning, where students bring their mom or dad (or cousin or grandma or older brother, etc.) and they enjoy donuts, juice, and milk together in the commons area.
The most recent event was the mother-son night, where students and parents play bingo for prizes.
Next up would have been the daddy-daughter dance, scheduled for the first Friday in April. The girls and their fathers get dressed up and attend a dance together, where prizes are awarded and a photographer takes pictures.
Another event that’s been canceled and would have been unique this year is attending a play at Hesston College. H.El.P had planned to send all the elementary school children to see Charlotte’s Web.
One annual tradition that they won’t forgo altogether is teacher appreciation week. Grieser said they try to do something nice for the teachers each day during teacher appreciation week, like providing lunch or Sonic drinks, providing donuts and/or coffee from the Lincoln Perk, or giving them little gifts. This year that will have to look different, but Grieser said they’ve already started discussions on what they can do.
“We really want to be able to honor our teachers and staff and their hard work, especially this year,” Grieser said. “They obviously deserve a really big thank you from us for doing what they do and being able to adapt and move forward, to still be there for the kids, remotely, which is very new for all of us. I’m sure we’ll have to come up with something very creative to be able to say thank you.”
Grieser said they considering doing porch drop offs or mailing the teachers something special.
Besides teacher appreciation week, H.El.P gives money to the teachers at the beginning of the year to spend on their classrooms and usually buys them each a Christmas present.
Key to everything for H.El.P are the fundraisers, which Grieser acknowledge nobody likes doing them.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of our fundraiser opportunities because without those, we really wouldn’t be able to do things like provide every child with a Christmas present (this year is was fleece ear warmers with Swathers embroidered on them), or buy teachers gift cards for their birthdays, or put on a Daddy Daughter Dance with prizes and photography, or buy the music department ukuleles for the students to learn to play,” Grieser said. “The list goes on and on.”
According to H.El.P treasurer Sarahanne Unruh, the Braided Bread fundraiser in the fall is their biggest, giving 50% of the proceeds back to the school, designated for school improvements.
“Without that fundraiser we wouldn’t have been able to purchase the last water fountain bottle filler station, a set of ukuleles, and two ball racks this school year,” Unruh said.
The spring Trash Bag fundraiser gives the organization about 40% of its proceeds and helps fund what Unruh calls the day to day operations like the movie night, mother/son night of fun, daddy/daughter dance, donuts with Mom/Dad, Grandparents Day cookies, Teacher Appreciation Week, teacher’s back to school gifts, and teacher Christmas gifts.
Even though nearly everything has been canceled for the next few weeks, H.El.P does have two fundraising opportunities coming up. Once a month they partner with the local Pizza Hut so that some of the proceeds from pizzas ordered go back to the school. The next two dates are April 6 and May 11.
“Every time you see the sign out saying HES Pizza night, that’s our night,” Unruh said.
Along with an events coordinator and treasurer, H.El.P has a president, a secretary, and a teacher appreciation coordinator. Grieser wasn’t sure how long the organization had been around, but knew it was at least over a decade.
“It’s something we enjoy doing for the school and for the kids, to be able to provide them with different things that maybe they weren’t able to do before,” Grieser said.