On Wednesday, September 18th approximately 300 people filled Southdale Park for the 6th Annual Sennett Family Picnic. Sennett staff, students, families, and MMSD’s assistant superintendent of secondary schools, Alex Fralin, were in attendance. It was an amazing sight. Shortly after 5:00 p.m., families could be seen filing into the park from all directions. The atmosphere was one of festivity and celebration, as staff and students kicked off the school year “potluck” style. The diversity of the attendees was represented by the wide array of food served, with everything from macaroni and cheese to enchiladas.
It was heartwarming and enlivening to see so many families and staff sitting out on the park lawn sharing a meal over laughter. Kids of all ages reveled in the common joys of face painting, eating ice cream, blowing bubbles, playing ball, and spinning on the merry-go-round.
Talking to the neighborhood kids that night was a true delight. They felt proud to be the hosts for the evening and immediately started talking about what the picnic would be like next year. While families came to the picnic from all across Sennett’s attendance area, many commented that they were only able to attend because the location was within walking distance of their home.
SouthdalePark is in the heart of apartment complexes that are isolated from the school by the Beltline Highway and inadequate public transit. Mika Oriedo, a Sennett Middle School teacher and former student, has first hand experience with this commute. Oriedo grew up in the neighborhood; he ran and played in SouthdalePark as a kid. These fond memories were mixed in with the challenges of being at the farthest corner of Sennett’s attendance area. Oriedo explains, “I was the first person on the bus route and the last one off, daily for my three years of middle school.”
The success of this event and the choice of an under-served neighborhood as the venue is a symbol of Sennett Middle School’s dedication to their students and families. Six years ago, the idea for a family picnic was a dream brought about by Sennett’s Equity Team. This group is dedicated to closing the achievement gap that persists between minority students and their white peers. As a part of this mission, the team analyzes school practices and how to better serve all of our students. They also work to increase parent engagement. The picnic fell right in line with this mission.
The picnic is also an opportunity for the surrounding community to connect with the school in a meaningful way. Many area businesses and organizations donate to this event. This year’s picnic was made possible by generous contributions from The Chocolate Shoppe, Cranberry Creek Restaurant, Copps, Fraboni’s Delicatessen, Gardner Baking Company, Huntington Learning Center, Ken’s Meats & Deli, Kraft/Oscar Mayer Foods, and McDonald’s- Fish Hatchery Rd. Many Sennett staff members also donate their own time, resources, and expertise to make this event possible.
Wednesday’s event was a tribute to the Sennett staff’s ability to adapt as they encounter the unexpected. Ten minutes prior to the picnic’s start, organizers realized that they were without electricity. Within minutes, Sennett’s computer teacher, Beth Hawker, was plugging the sound system into an adapter on her van. Karen Vieth was on the phone with the Town of Madison Police Department, calling for a back up plan. Due to the kindness of the police officer and the generosity of the Public Works Department, electricity was soon restored. The Sennett staff never skipped a beat.
Oriedo says that it is truly a “harambee” event. Harambee is a Swahili word that signifies people pulling together to work for a common goal. That is the true nature of Sennett’s picnic. Every year, hope is ignited by this event. It builds enthusiasm in the students and connects them with their school and community. The hard work continues back in the building as the school staff build upon that hope.