Following a 30-year tradition, Fegely Middle School transformed their cafeteria into a candle-lit, fine dining experience for their 6th, 7th and 8th graders on Friday afternoon.
The Fegely Middle School Candlelight Inn event gathered students to eat family-style with their entire grade, enjoying delicacies like turkey, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie and other holiday favorites.
Terry Levenda, former Fegely Middle School principal and school system assistant superintendent, began the tradition in 1976 and it has continued for generations ever since.
“The first thing that came to mind in creating this was to instill in kids that this is a family, and families should eat together, and families should celebrate together,” Levenda said.
Teachers also put importance on learning proper table etiquette leading up to and during the event, making it a lesson on fine dining protocols.
“It’s important to build traditions, not only at home but in other places as well,” Levenda said. “Kids spend more time at school than at home.”
Levenda said that not all kids have this experience as part of their childhood, as many parents’ working schedules may not allow for a sit-down gathering at dinner, and some children don’t have the privilege of going out to formal dining events.
“It’s not as easy as it used to be,” Levenda said. “It’s become less and less over time. Most kids were not familiar with table settings and how to properly use utensils. It’s still important that families eat together, and it’s gotten more and more difficult to do so.”
Several parents volunteered to help at the event, supporting what the school faculty is teaching the students.
“Families today don’t eat family style at the table anymore,” said Melanie Fausch, parent volunteer. “So this is bringing that kind of tradition back.”
Varae Gomez, parent volunteer, wanted to help at the event to be more a part of her son, Gilbert’s, school.
“I think it’s great, it’s bonding to make the school feel more like family,” Gomez said.
Sixth-grader Jalea loved the pumpkin pie, and fellow classmate Delaney was a big fan of the turkey.
“It’s really fun,” Delaney said. “I like being able to talk to my whole class.”
Twenty years have passed since Levenda retired, and he still comes to help and enjoy the dinner with faculty and students.
“My reason for being here is I get to see something that’s been going on for so many years, and I get to experience this with the children,” he said. “It’s refreshing to see the kids getting into this, and it’s encouraging to me, since I spent 40 years taking care of kids.”
Mindy Malaski, 6th grade teacher, is a former Fegely Middle School student and has fond memories of the Candlelight Inn event as a child, including seeing her then principal Levenda dressed up in a tuxedo.
“I really do hope this is a tradition that stays forever,” Malaski said. “I think it makes us special, because I don’t think other schools do this for their students. A lot of work goes into making sure we pull off the event, with kitchen staff, custodians to faculty, to volunteers. It takes the community working together to do this.”