A couple of thousand parents and students from Montgomery County Public Schools gathered in Rockville Saturday to learn about school programs, receive vaccines and also to take part in entertainment and educational activities at the Back-to-School Fair.
MCPS parents and their children were invited through a robo-call to attend the annual county-wide event.
Chris Wiggum, a master of ceremonies and dancer, said all the services and activities at the fair were provided by the county or local sponsors.
“Every entertainment, every group, every bit of something was a Montgomery County-based activity or has roots here or has some kind of office in this area. Kaiser (Permanente) is a national health organization, but they have headquarters 10 minutes down the street.”
Moon bounces, a rock climbing wall, spin art, and live and recorded music and dancers were among the recreational offerings.
Sheila, a fifth-grader at Gibbs Elementary School, said her favorite part of the fair involved a science experiment.
“My favorite part was the science … Mad Science booth,” Sheila said. “There was a tub of dry ice with foam and foam was rising up and … it’s like hand sanitizer.”
“You can use it as hand sanitizer,” remarked her older sister, Mary, who is starting sixth grade at Rocky Hill Middle School.
Mary said she wanted to try the rock climbing wall, but her family ran out of time. However, she was able to find a different activity that she liked.
“My favorite thing was the rock wall, but I didn’t get to do it,” she said. “I liked the jump roping and the hula hooping thing at the other side … we got to do it.”
The girls’ father, Aubin, who gave only his first name, found what he came for inside the Carver Educational Services Center. He said he wanted materials explaining what his daughters were learning in school.
“I got more information on Curriculum 2.0. I got more information inside the learning curriculum from someone over there,” he said, pointing to the building.
Another element of the Back-to-School Fair was the vaccination clinic, which enabled middle school students to receive free required vaccines prior to the September deadline.
Dana Tofig, public information and Web communications officer for MCPS, said that students in seventh and eighth grades must receive the two vaccinations required by state law by Sept. 20. Otherwise, they will not be allowed to return to school until they do.
Of the educational activities, one of the most popular involved selecting food within groups in the food pyramid in a grocery store setting. It engaged children and parents, one mom said.
Tawanna Michie, a mother of three, said this activity, provided by sponsor Kaiser Permanente, was her favorite because she learned about teaching her children healthy eating.
“I really liked the nutrition thing because it lets the kids choose … lets us see what the kids are going to choose if they go to the store themselves.”
In the activity, children walk through a model of a store with a shopping cart and select mock food items such as vegetables they think are healthy choices. After participants walk through the “store” located in the parking lot, they are assigned an exercise determined by the inedible eatables they chose.
“So they’re shopping, not us, and we tell them, pick nutritious things,” Michie said. “And when they get to the register, the register tells them what they have to do depending on what you got.”
Children were assigned an exercise such as jumping jacks or toe touches based on the “food” they picked up.
Michie’s 8-year-old daughter , Tawanna, said “the fake food thing” was her favorite activity, too.
Ricky, 11, Michie’s second oldest, said his favorite part was the table for outdoor and environmental education. As a sixth grader, he will participate in outdoor education this year, which is when students in Montgomery County attend the overnight program.
The table for the environmental program consistently appeared to draw more people than others. At any given time about 10 people of different ages were gathered around that table.
Elementary school children walked up to the table to touch and examine rocks, minerals and other materials such as a turtle shell or an animal skull. Older students and parents noticed the owl perched on the gloved hand of a man standing behind the table. Some took photos with the owl; others took videos of it with their smartphones or tablets. Half of the older audience just stood still and listened to the man as he told them about the bird.
Michie said she and her children attend the Back-to-School Fair because she observed that the activities change each year. Michie said this is her third time attending.
“Every year we come, and it’s always something new,” she said. “They’ve never had wild animals; this was the first time I’ve seen it.”
She had her son take a picture of her and the owl at the outdoor education table, and she posted it on Instagram with her smartphone.
Fair organizers and announcements online encouraged families to park at schools and ride shuttles to the lot of the Carver Educational Services Center, which is across the street from Montgomery College’s Rockville campus, due to limited parking.
Mannakkee Street was congested by hundreds of people arriving at or departing from the fair.
Two crossing guards directed pedestrians, vehicles of families who chose to drive directly to the site and school buses that shuttled attendees from about 10 schools in the county. The combination of cars and buses backed up traffic in both directions on Mannakkee Street, which borders the educational services center. A chain of as many as 15 sedans, minivans, SUVs and school buses exiting Montgomery College parking lot, which was being used for the fair, alternated with the traffic.