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Getting into character

For the second annual Panther Con celebration, parents, teachers and administration joined their students for some Comic Con-themed fun at Palmyra High School

Secretary to the superintendent for the Palmyra School District, Patricia Holt, running a Star Wars-themed roulette wheel game at Palmyra School District’s second annual Panther Con celebration.

By Stephen Finn

The Sun

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School can be a scary place for a young person, especially one making a transition into a new building with new faces and an older student population.

On Friday, Feb. 15, Palmyra High School aimed to ease some of this anxiety and remind kids that school can also be a place for fun, friends and community with its annual Panther Con celebration. The event, now in its second year, was open to parents and students and featured a little something for everyone.

For one night, the school’s gym was transformed into something resembling the floor of a comic book convention, complete with costumed superheroes and characters from a wide variety of popular movie franchises like “Star Wars.”

“For us it’s a chance to get the whole community into our high school, we have a very small community and it’s a shame to not have everybody here know each other,” said Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction Stacey Saia, who came to the event dressed as the character Ursula from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

The school district recently established plans for a standalone middle school serving grades sixth through eighth, housed on the second floor of the high school. Saia, who organized Panther Con, saw the event as a great opportunity for the incoming sixth-graders from Charles Street School to be introduced to a new building.

“Right now we’re looking at bringing our sixth grade over, and I know some of them are like ‘oh it’s a big building,’ so I thought it would be good when we started last year to have something where those families could come over here. It’s a great environment, a great, fun night to remember this building by,” said Saia.

Although the night appeared very kid-centric, with characters, games and snacks abound, Saia wanted parents in the district to get just as much out of the event as their kids.

“It’s good to have the parents get a chance to work with the teachers and administrators and see them in a non-student-related environment so you have a better community relationship because you bonded over a game or something here,” said Saia.

Although attendees paid for tickets, proceeds simply covered the cost of putting the event together and feeding everyone who came out. According to Saia, Panther Con is about bringing the community together at their local school, and doing so at as little cost to the district as possible.

Saia credits her friend and former colleague John Russell, supervisor of curriculum and instruction for Burlington City High School, with coming up with the idea for an event like Panther Con for his district.

“Our superintendent started an administrative PLC (professional learning community) and the focus was on community engagement. We wanted to try something different because the same things weren’t as effective as we wanted them to be,” said Russell.

He came up with the idea in 2015 when the newest “Star Wars” movie, “The Force Awakens,” was opening in theaters and had the attention of every school kid in his district.

“We thought that was a good vehicle to bridge generations between parents and their kids. It started as a ‘Star Wars’ night and morphed into a Comic Con type event,” said Russell.

As a collector himself, Russell was able to provide a number of props and costumes for the event. He showed up to Panther Con decked out in an impressive Indiana Jones costume.

“We wanted our community to come in and see our high school, same as here, in a really positive light,” said Russell. “Kids get to see teachers in a different light and they love it.”

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