Suntree school festival a community benefit


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New Suntree Elementary School PTO president Heather Barlow, third from right, organized a PTO fall festival planning kickoff Sept. 12.

Linda Wiggins

Expect some changes in a popular local autumn fair starting with the name: Suntree Elementary Community Fall Festival, set from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15. “Community” replaces the word “school” to widen appeal, according to organizers.

“We want to attract people from the surrounding residential and business community because it’s a great event that many people can enjoy, but also because the good it does goes way beyond the campus,” said Heather Barlow, new president of the Suntree Elementary PTO, which has all new members this year and produces the festival.

Proceeds from the wildly popular silent auction will go to reimburse teachers for their classroom expenses, a scourge of many an educator industry-wide looking to level the playing field in their classes among the haves and the have nots.

Suntree has a reputation for upscale communities, but reality is that 18 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch, according to school district statistics.

“If a student’s family cannot afford school supplies, or cannot afford a field trip, for example, it’s something that is quietly worked out with the teacher, and none of the student’s peers are the wiser,” Barlow said. The result is a benefit to the entire community when students from low-income households have the same educational opportunities to advance as other students, she added.

The remaining proceeds will go toward a new playground estimated to cost $30,000 and toward replacing aged computers unable to handle recent upgrades. Sixty new computers are needed for the total project.

Another new change is the time of the festival, which traditionally has been from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. An increase in competitive student activities such as soccer Saturday mornings and early afternoons has caused many families to miss the festival.

“We are definitely seeking input on how we can make this great experience more accessible to all,” Barlow said.

To volunteer, sponsor, obtain exhibitor or vendor space, or purchase pre-paid tickets to the festival, go to suntreepto.wordpress.com or call 321-794-4601.