Lisa Marie Gomez shows off expert skills handling a Hula-Hoop, one of many activities offered at the Dunwoody Springs Elementary’s Back To School Bash on Sept. 15. The festival’s proceeds go toward teacher supplies and supporting student enrichment programs.

Fourth-grader Kariah Hiles made sure her mom didn’t forget the school’s annual fall festival.

“When they sent home fliers, she made sure we put one on the refrigerator,” said her mother, Kisa Hiles. “She promised all her little friends, ‘I’ll be there. I’ll see you there.’”

And as 9-year-old Kariah bounced out of one big, inflatable, bouncy ride and raced off to join her friends at another one across the big, grassy field behind Dunwoody Springs Elementary School on Sept. 15, it seemed she found it worth the wait for this year’s Back To School Bash.

Here was a chance to play at school.

“School is boring,” she said. “This is fun.”

So, let the fun begin. Fall is returning, bringing its usual variety of seasonal celebrations at public and private schools scattered from Buckhead to Dunwoody.

The signs are everywhere. Parents are searching their attics or out-of-the-way school closets for ancient ring-toss games. Soon, bouncy castles will sprout in schoolyards and children will paint pumpkins, toss bean bags at targets or join cakewalks.

“It’s a pretty big deal for the school,” Ashford Park Elementary PTA co-president Kristin Mitchell said of the Brookhaven school’s annual fall festival. “It’s a great fundraiser and it’s fun. It’s a great community event.”

Carl Vogel and his son James, 6, play a low-tech version of “Angry Birds” at the Dunwoody Springs Elementary’s Back To School Bash on Sept. 15. Vogel said participating in the festival is a way “to contribute to a good cause.”

And, of course, once the fairs begin, PTAs and other parent groups will raise money. In some cases, lots of money, which the groups use to pay for things school districts won’t or can’t buy. Proceeds from fall carnivals have been used by local parents groups to pay for anything from interactive classroom chalk boards to school security guards.

How much do the schools raise each fall? Dunwoody Springs Elementary in Sandy Springs typically raised $5,000 to $6,000 in past years, PTA secretary Robin Winner said. In Brookhaven, Ashford Park Elementary’s PTA usually raises at least $9,000 through its fall festival, Mitchell said.

The PTA at Buckhead’s Morris Brandon Elementary raised about $15,000 last year through the school’s Jamboree, said Cia Cummings, co-chair of this year’s event. “It’s a big money maker for the PTA, which pays for so much that Atlanta Public Schools doesn’t pay for,” Cummings said. “… It’s a great way to build the PTA budget.”

Elsewhere in Buckhead, at what may be the biggest of the fall school to-dos in the area, the Pace Parents Club last year raised more than $120,000 through Pace Academy’s Fall Fair. This year’ fair, the school’s 49th, is set for Oct. 20.

Pace’s fair “has grown from just a school event to an Atlanta tradition,” said Fall Festival co-chair Ripple Alkire. “The whole community becomes part of this.”

About 9,000 people attended Pace’s combination crafts fair and carnival last year, Alkire said. Pulling it off takes a lot of work. Thirty committees with 60 parent co-chairs put the fair together, Alkire said, and 200 volunteers work on the event. “My co-chair and I have been working on this a year,” she said.

This year, Pace’s fair, built around a “wizards” theme, will offer bungee jumps, bouncy castles, laser tag, games, a cupcake walk, karaoke, faux tattoos, food, crafts, and the oddly popular “MASH tent,” where, for about $6 in tickets, a child can have a fake cast put on his or her arm. “Every flat surface we can find [on the school grounds] usually has an activity,” Alkire said.

Left to right, Pace Academy students Morgan Kelly, Brenner Appel and Kappy Arnold take a turn on the big slide during the school’s 2011 Fall Fair.

The Dunwoody Springs festival may have been smaller, with a little more than 1,000 people showing up Sept. 15, but there, too, the schools’ grassy fields offered plenty of action during the festival.

Kids raced from Hula-Hoops to a bean-bag toss to a low-tech spin on the popular cellphone game “Angry Birds.” In the Back To School version of the game, players used a slingshot built from 2 x 4 boards to fire balls at a stack of cardboard boxes.

Parent Carl Vogel saw the festival as a painless way he could contribute a few bucks to a good cause. “I know they need money for the school,” Vogel said as his son James, a first grader, raced from the “Angry Birds” slingshot to the bouncy, inflatable obstacle course. “I know the economy is not doing very well for the schools, so we try to give what we can. I don’t mind giving a few extra for the school system.”

PTA and school officials say the festivals offer more than just a chance to raise money. They’re a way to get the neighbors to drop by the schoolhouse.

“It brings the school to the neighborhood and it beings the neighborhood to the school,” said Laura Moseley, parent liaison at Spalding Drive Elementary in Sandy Springs.

At Dunwoody Springs, Winner says the school invites parents and children from nearby schools such as Ison Springs Elementary to take part in their fall Back To School celebration. “We do it as a community-builder,” she said. “We also do it so our families at our schools get to know each other.”

Besides, it gives kids a chance to see a fun side to school.

As Dunwoody Springs first-grader Morgan McEntyre, 6, awaited her turn on an inflatable slide, she nervously kept an eye on her mom. Tonya McEntyre encouraged her daughter to take a chance on the ride.

Moments later, Morgan appeared at the end of the slide, all smiles.

“I want to go back,” she said.

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School Fall Festivals

Here’s a sampling of school fund raising festivals scheduled in coming weeks in the Reporter Newspapers communities.

Oct. 12

Ison Springs Fall Festival

6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

8261 Ison Road, Sandy Springs

Information: www.isonsprings.com

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Oct. 13

Heiskell School Fall Festival

4 p.m. – 7 p.m.

3260 Northside Drive, Buckhead

Information: 404-262-2233

or www.heiskell.net

Kingsley Charter Fall Festival

8 a.m – 3 p.m.

2051 Brendon Drive, Dunwoody

Information: www.kingsleycharter.org

W.T. Jackson Elementary Fall Festival

9 a.m. – noon

1325 Mount Paran Road, Buckhead

Information: www.wtjackson.org

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Oct. 19

Spalding Drive Charter Fall Festival

5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

130 W. Spalding Drive, Sandy Springs

Information:

www.spaldingdrivecharterschool.com

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Oct. 20

E. Rivers Elementary Fall Carnival

10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

8 Peachtree Battle Avenue, Buckhead

Information:

www.eriverselementary.com

High Point Elementary Fall Festival

11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

20 Greenland Road, Sandy Springs

Information: 404- 843-7716

Pace Academy Fall Fair

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

966 W. Paces Ferry Road, Buckhead

Information: ripplea@comcast.net or www.paceacademy.org

Peachtree Charter Middle Fall Harvest Festival

9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

4664 North Peachtree Rd, Dunwoody

Information: www.pcmsboosterclub.com or 678-676-7702

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Oct. 21

Morris Brandon Elementary Jamboree

1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

2741 Howell Mill Road, Buckhead

Information:

www.morrisbrandon.com/Jamboree

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Nov. 3

Ashford Park Elementary Fall Festival

2 p.m. – 5 p.m.

2968 Cravenridge Drive NE, Brookhaven

Information: www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/ashfordpark

Sources: school information

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.