The chatter was especially lively and the table manners quite impeccable in the Dutch Fork Elementary School cafeteria Friday.
Scattered among the excited youngsters were some special guests of honor, as the Lexington-Richland 5 school welcomed nearly 200 visitors to its annual Grandparents and Grandfriends Day. The gathering was held in conjunction with National Grandparents Day, which is Sunday, and was among many similar celebrations held at schools across the Midlands.
“They absolutely love it,” Dutch Fork principal Julius Scott said of visible buzz at the school Friday. “It’s just an opportunity for the students to be with their grandparents.”
The school held its first Grandparents Day in 2002 in one grade level and expanded the activity as it quickly gained popularity. The event was renamed Grandparents and Grandfriends Day last year to allow children with no grandparents to bring other family members or significant people to eat with them.
“We like to create a sense of community and have students think of school as a positive place,” said Diane Starnes, vice president of the school’s PTO. “Having grandparents come for this type of event supports these ideals. It also creates special memories of elementary school.”
Dutch Fork added a service project to complement Grandparents Day this year. In recent weeks, students have collected socks, toiletries and other items to be given to residents at the Lowman Home retirement community. About a dozen classes made items for the residents.
“We’re helping our kids understand that service is a great part of life and that they don’t always have to be on the receiving end,” Scott said.
It was the grandparents and others on the receiving end of much affection on Friday. While many shared conversations with their young family members, others played games or posed for pictures as they all helped themselves to a menu featuring spaghetti, corn dogs, green beans, cinnamon rolls, salad, apples and milk or tea.
“It’s an exciting time for both the grandparents and the grandchildren,” Starnes said. “Grandparents, of course, are always thrilled to see their grandkids, and the children love having their grandparents see a glimpse of their lives at school.”
Margie Sanders traveled some 50 miles to be with her granddaughter, A.J. Arteze, who is in first grade.
“I don’t get to see her very often,” Sanders said. “This is a big treat for me. She didn’t know I was coming.”
Beverly Castleberry was filling a dual role on Friday – as the grandmother to fourth-grader Ivy Drummer and the great-grandmother to first-grader Malichi Smith. With 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, Castleberry said she’s spent a lot of time making the rounds.
“I’m trying to get the village back,” she said. “If it takes the grandmother to do it, so be it.”
Starnes said the students will carry the memories of the day with them for some time.
“Students will not remember what they did every day of the school year, but they will remember the day their grandparents came to eat lunch with them,” she said.