After not holding carnivals last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations at local schools were back in a big way Friday.

As music blared, families gathered 5-7 p.m. around the Eaton Elementary School track to play games, bid in a silent auction, eat food, watch live karate and choir performances, let children jump in inflatables and see touch-a-truck with vehicles from Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, Lenoir City Fire Department and Priority Ambulance.

Ashley Baessler, EES principal, was glad the carnival returned after last year’s was canceled.

“That was the one thing that we’ve heard the most is that our parents have been so excited to see tonight happening for some normalcy for our kids,” Baessler said. “It’s something to get them out again and excited. They feel like so many things have been shut down and not normal and they’re just excited to see some of our traditions come back.”

The fundraiser typically brings in about $30,000, but with only the silent auction and read-a-thon last year, Baessler said that was down to $12,000.

Although a final amount could not be determined by News-Herald presstime, Baessler estimated collections could be near $35,000 this year.

Not being able to hold the larger fundraiser in 2020 created a noticeable decline in funds, she said.

“It was a significant drop and it actually impacted the amount of money our PTO gave our teachers second semester to spend in their classroom,” Baessler said. “Our teachers are very blessed that they get classroom money in July and they get classroom money in January so that they can continuously support our student learning.”

Funds raised will help buy snacks for students or replenish classroom supplies.

“Our goal is $35,000 to give them more money in their classrooms, to give them some more technology,” Baessler said. “Our district’s done a great job, but there’s still some pieces that they want in addition to that. We’re just looking to support our teachers. ... And then teachers have requested a few subscriptions to some different websites that create videos and things like that, to enhance that learning both in the classroom and also digitally for any of our students that are still at home. We’re trying to close that gap that we have experienced from COVID.”

In the four weeks leading up to the carnival, students read “Stuart Little” and Oct. 19 went to see the movie at the LoCo Drive-In in Loudon. The book’s final chapter was read Thursday.

Baessler said she was grateful for community support.

EES pre-kindergarten teacher Tosha Humphrey said the carnival gave families the opportunity to catch up with present or past teachers.

“We definitely like that the community is here and the families are coming out to help support us because our fundraisers are definitely majorly important for changing curriculum and technology needs,” Humphrey said.

EES third-grade teachers Tiffany Dean and Liz Myers agreed.

“I think the community is happy to have the carnival back,” Dean said.

“This is our one and only fundraiser of the year, so it’s very important and beneficial to us,” Myers added. “... Last year we bought new playground equipment. We update technology as it’s aging out, all kinds of things.”

Philly turns out

Another year of Philadelphia Elementary School’s Creekfest brought a good crowd from the small community.

“I am constantly amazed at the support of our school from our community, and this was also a reflection of the great job our entire staff does of putting on engaging events,” Marvin Feezell, PES principal, said.

From 4-7 p.m., families were encouraged to try some food, play carnival games, jump in inflatables, bid in an auction, tour the new “Land by the Creek Farm” barn, view live entertainment from students and participate in the annual Great Ball race down the creek. Carpentry students were involved in a pen turning and machining exhibit.

“Last year was very limited due to COVID and we were unable to have the carnival component of the event,” Feezell said. “This year we hoped to set a new school record for ticket sales, and we did. This year’s event was more spread out as one of our safety precautions, but it was one of our best-attended events ever at PES.”

PES hoped to raise $40,000 between the carnival, ball race and auction, although a final amount collected could not be determined by presstime.

“The biggest reason for the success of Creekfest is the dedication of PES staff, students, parents and community members to our school,” Feezell said. “There is a huge amount of pride in the Purple and Gold in Philadelphia. Our staff does a great job of organizing events so that people get value for their time and money. We publish a Creekfest letter each year that tells donors about the types of projects that we want to pursue for PES as a result of the fundraiser as well. As a result of Creekfest, our stakeholders recognize that we are able to offer lots of extra opportunities at PES for our students, and that adds to the value of the event for everyone involved.

“... Loudon County Schools does a great job of supporting our school, especially with expensive technology for students and teachers,” he added. “Loudon County Maintenance has also been an enormous asset in keeping our school in great shape as we continue to grow. Our teachers also bring in lots of money to the school for specific projects throughout the year through a variety of grants, but Creekfest is the only school-wide fundraiser. We ask our community to raise funds once per year, and they respond in big ways for our kids. Creekfest allows us to pursue activities above and beyond the normal school curriculum. Philadelphia is a special place.”

Money will go toward the school’s elementary playground and potentially more improvements around the campus on smaller projects.

“We will add to our K-8 STEM program with additional tools and equipment,” Feezell said. “In the middle school this means strengthening our (Career Technical Education) programs. These programs give students real-world work experience opportunities, connect well to programs at Loudon High School and tie into the College and Career Readiness component of our mission statement. For example, we need more powerful computers for our Digital Arts program, and we hope to get equipment for students to be able to produce more end-use products such as stickers, decals, signs and T-shirts. We need to continue to build up our ‘Land by the Creek Farm’ with additional equipment for our animals and our future garden along with infrastructure in the barn and additional fencing. Our carpentry program continues to grow, and we are looking to mill and dry our own lumber in the future.”