November 11, 2019
Nov. 8, 2019—As a way to combat issues Fiest Elementary School students were experiencing from social media or too much time spent in front of a smartphone, computer, television or other screened device, the campus counseling team wanted the school to “unplug,” literally and figuratively.
The result was Fiest holding its first-ever “Unplugged Family Night” on Oct. 22, where nearly 300 students and family members joined school staff and volunteers for a night of fun, games and information.
“We can talk to kids about it all day but at the end of the day, when the parents are sharing the message, that’s where the change is going to happen,” Fiest counselor Beth Frnka said of addressing mental and emotional wellness as it relates to time away from electronic devices.
The initial planning began in spring, as Frnka and fellow counselor Kori Gravatt aimed to put together an event that could bring families to the school and help educate on issues associated with too much screen time. They also wanted students to have time to simply have fun away from devices.
The night had a few logistical items to work out, but Fiest Principal Jeanette Gerault and staff, who worked the evening event, were quickly on board.
“They didn’t even finish describing it when the staff said ‘Absolutely, let’s do it,’” Gerault recalled of the recruitment pitch in April. “I feel like it’s very important for our students. We want to bring in as many opportunities for them to have that time.”
The event began with a spaghetti dinner in the cafeteria. Portions of the meal were donated either outright or through monetary donations from community partners and Fiest staff members. Attendees were encouraged to connect with family members without the use of smartphones or other devices.
Students and other young individuals were then released to classrooms for a chance to play board games, work on puzzles or simply interact face to face with staff or the numerous student volunteers from Cypress Falls High School.
Every student took home a game to continue the fun beyond the unplugged night.
“This was fantastic,” Gerault said. “I’m sort of like a grandmother where I get to go and sometimes play with kids in the classroom and learn, but this was total fun. We got to enjoy them on a different level.”
Parents and family members remained in the cafeteria for a presentation from CFISD Mental Health Intervention Team representatives that included valuable information on social media use and safety, internet trends and warning signs. Handouts and other resources were available, with parents also given the opportunity to ask questions and better understand the ever-growing digital world.
“We didn’t have to worry about this 20 years ago,” Frnka said. “The teachers, staff and parents alike all see a need for learning of what the kids are being exposed to. And in general, we have become used to pacifying kids with devices and they have so much screen time. There’s that disconnect with family time.
“Tonight, it was amazing to see how much fun these kids were having playing actual, old-fashion games.”