Guest post by Thomas Kachadurian
In last week’s post, I discussed the beginnings of the iCARE program at Colonie Central High School and how it has given students an opportunity to make a difference in our school. This week, I will share how iCARE has grown and united our entire community around a variety of events that aim to serve others and build a positive culture.
A few years ago, our iCARE team discussed what we could do to build a sense of community. We had just hosted a successful walk for breast cancer and our students wanted to capitalize on the energy and enthusiasm from this success. They came up with an idea to host our own fundraiser for American Cancer Society (ACS), similar to Relay for Life, but bigger and on our school track.
In a manner of two short months we created a committee of iCARE students, parents, local business leaders, and staff. Our monthly meetings covered every facet of planning an event that we coined Raiderfest.
What we devised was a day of activities leading up to an evening mini Relay For Life. The experiences, such as carnival games, sports tournaments, live music, and food trucks, were geared toward kids and families and would encourage event attendance and participation. We also looked to create educational opportunities focused on wellness. After six months—and roughly 200 hours of meetings—we held our first Raiderfest on May 21, 2014, from 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
For one day, we were successful in bottling lightning. We built it and people came. Our campus was welling with activity, positivity, and togetherness. Old friends reunited, students provided services, and our community witnessed the beauty and abundance of our students’ talents. Moreover, many recognized the support that community businesses are willing to offer.
I have never experienced the energy, enthusiasm, creative approaches, and unique mélange of student leadership that I did that day. Right away, I understood clearly that Raiderfest created something greater in our community and that this day needed to become an annual event. I was so proud of my iCARE students for conceiving this idea and bringing it to fruition.
Now Raiderfest is an annual event that our school and community look forward to each spring. This multi-faceted event now includes local bands, a local radio DJ, inflatables, laser tag, a craft fair, wellness-based demonstrations, a Capital Region STEAM Exposition, a student-designed and constructed mini golf course, youth Olympics, 25+ student-created carnival games, a campus color run, and much more. The event culminated twice with a mini Relay for Life and Luminaria Ceremony and now concludes with a Powder Puff football game and whiffle ball tournament in honor of a student who recently passed.
To say that Raiderfest brings our community together is an understatement. This event brings more than 4,000 people to our campus to enjoy the full day of activities. More than 500 student volunteers and 20 adult volunteers run the event activities. Since its inception in 2013, we have raised more than $100,000 for various local charities we support based on yearly initiatives.
After our first Raiderfest, our iCARE initiative has exploded. Our iCARE team touches every aspect of our school and community and is now a district initiative. iCARE students organize a variety of activities and programs for the district that aim to build a sense of community and help others. Here are just some of our initiatives:
- Raider Trader Food Pantry: This initiative provides backpacks filled with necessities to an increasing population of students who need essential supports in place to help them better focus on academic goals. Backpacks are packed every Thursday by a team of iCARE kids, Student Senators, and rotating volunteers.
- Firehouse Chili Cook-Off fundraiser: We coordinate a chili cook-off among local firehouses and municipalities, while community members and special judges participate.
- Caps for a Cure fundraiser and volunteering at Ronald McDonald House: We gather bottle tops and can tabs to earn money for the Ronald McDonald House and American Cancer Society’s HopeClub. Several iCARE students and faculty visit, clean and count tabs, and learn additional ways to support families in need.
- Hill of Heroes: A student, parent, and faculty member designed and executed a tribute for veterans and the U.S. Armed Forces. Each year since we began in 2015, we’ve added to the memorial to honor our local heroes.
- iCARE Ambassadors: A group of iCARE students visit our five elementary schools every other week to mentor younger kids, play with them at recess, read to them, work on math skills, or simply engage in positive relationship building.
- Pay It Forward Fridays: In an effort to address and curb negativity, to create opportunities of positive conversation, and to recognize the marginalized or disenfranchised, we began Pay It Forward Fridays.
The iCARE program has been vitally important for uniting our school and has made a tremendous impact on our culture and community. In next week’s post, I will share how iCARE has transformed the way our school works with our most difficult students. If you would like to learn more about the iCARE initiative, please contact me at [email protected].
What events and programs help build community at your school?
Thomas Kachadurian is an associate principal at Colonie Central High School in Albany, NY. He was the 2017 New York Assistant Principal of the Year.