RISING SUN — Cecil County Public School students, families and community members stepped into the wizarding world for a night of magic and merriment during a celebration of all things Harry Potter on Friday, March 8, at Rising Sun High School.
RSHS media specialist Kimberly Dyar supervises the library advisory committee, a group of students who organize and produce in-school and after-school events throughout the year like the third annual Harry Potter Night.
Dyar said the committee often plans events around various fandoms. Three years ago, they chose to organize an event based on Harry Potter and it has continued ever since — a development which came much to Dyar’s surprise at first.
“It had such a positive response that it became an annual event,” she said. “Within the first day I had done it, everyone I ran into kept saying, ‘When are you doing it next year?’ I wasn’t planning on doing it again next year. I sometimes think it’s a one-time sort of shot and we try something different. But I was like ‘If there’s this much passion for it and interest in it, we’ve got to do it every year.’”
On Friday, students transformed the high school into Hogwarts, the school where young witches and wizards go to learn and practice magic in author J.K Rowling’s book series.
At the event, attendees were able to visit numerous stations to participate in activities such as decorating wands, brewing potions, personalizing a helium balloon owl, solving puzzles, and playing the wizard sport of Quidditch.
RSHS freshman Lauren Stemple can scarcely remember a time when “The Boy Who Lived” was not a part of her family’s life.
“My mother loves Harry Potter and so do I,” Lauren said. “We have a shelf in our house devoted to Harry Potter merchandise. We love to watch the movies.”
Lauren, who helped plan the event as part of the library advisory committee, said she particularly admires Rowling’s ability to craft a complex and colorful fictional world.
“I like Harry Potter especially because it’s such a creative world,” she said. “I want to be an author some day so it’s kind of something to look up to how [Rowling] could create a world that has so many unique characters and ideas to it.”
Lauren’s mother, Jennifer, teaches at Rising Sun Middle School and has been a Potterhead ever since the books came out.
“I used to teach elementary school when they first came out and I did it as a read-aloud to my students because they were too young to read the books themselves,” Jennifer said. “They got really excited, just going through the sceneries and the character development, getting that sense of imagination of things that takes you out of normal life, making the impossible possible. That sense of fantasy is really fun.”
Later, Jennifer passed her love of the Harry Potter series on to her children.
“As my kids got older, we borrowed the audiobooks from the school media center and listened to them every car trip,” she said. “They’d be like ‘Can we drive around the block again to listen to them a little bit more?’”
During the event, Jennifer donned a Gryffindor tie and robes and brandished a wand. Meanwhile, Lauren was decked out in her mother’s Gryffindor sweater and tie — though Lauren identifies more as a Ravenclaw, the Hogwarts house associated with wit and intellect.
When Pottermore, the website for Harry Potter fans, sorted her into the Gryffindor house, Jennifer was unsure how accurate it was, though she proudly wears the house’s uniform.
“I don’t know that I’m really that brave,” she said, remarking about one of the notable traits associated with that house.
But Lauren, the quick-witted Ravenclaw, was quick with a quip to correct her mother’s self-assessment.
“I think you’re quite brave to work with students every day,” Lauren said.
Jennifer’s son, Connor, is not in the library advisory committee but he pitched in as a member of the National Honor Society by making edible wands with pretzel rods and chocolate.
Lauren oversaw a potions station with her friend, Indigo Garvin, where they helped attendees brew potions in tiny jars with food coloring and corn syrup.
While Lauren is a longtime fan of Harry Potter, Garvin hasn’t delved into the series.
Both freshmen, Lauren and Garvin agreed that they enjoy the friendship and teamwork they have found through the library advisory committee in their first year of high school.
“Everybody’s been really nice to us and we just have a really fun time,” Garvin said.
In addition to the annual Harry Potter Night, the committee has put together several other events over the years, such as a Star Wars-themed event, according to RSHS senior Harrison Howell.
Howell said even students who aren’t a part of the various fandoms the events are based on can enjoy joining the committee.
“I have to say, it’s fun even if you don’t care about Harry Potter,” he said.
Though a bit chaotic at the start of the planning process, Howell said the event began to take shape the more he and his fellow committee members worked on it.
“It was very sporadic and of the moment at first. But then the more we worked on it, the better it got,” said Howell, who added that his favorite part of the event was a station where people could make slime by mixing various potions ingredients and choose their own color by adding food coloring.
Sophomore Aiden Masino, on the other hand, said his favorite part was the snacks, specifically the Butterbeer — a sweet, butterscotch-flavored, non-alcoholic drink from the Potterverse — which he said was “divine.”
Masino said he was happy that RSHS was hosting an event that was friendly for people of all ages, including his own family who was coming later that afternoon.
“My father and my little brother are going to be here later and they enjoy the event. They enjoy making the wands, potions, the wonderful Harry Potter-themed food,” said Masino, who identifies as a Slytherin, the Hogwarts house known for its ambition and resourcefulness.
Victoria Jackson, also a Slytherin, helped make art for a station where people could draw their Patronus, a silver animal-shaped charm that witches and wizards can cast to protect them against the wraith-like Dementors.
Jackson, who said her Patronus would probably be a cheetah because of their speed, enjoyed tapping into her artistic talents for the Harry Potter event and encouraged others to do so.
“It’s just an outlet for many people and it’s magical. It’s just something that gives people something to do and have fun with,” she said.
Kelly Stevenson, a teacher at Calvert Elementary School, brought her sons Blake, 4, and Robert, 9, to the event to enjoy all of the Harry Potter activities.
“We haven’t gotten into it that much but we’re interested, and we went to Universal Studios and really enjoyed it there,” she said.
Stevenson said she likes how events like Potter Night brings people together.
“I like it for the community involvement, just getting out, seeing people and being social,” she said.
Melissa Dutterer brought her family to the event for the third year in a row.
“I always liked the magic of it, the cool names, the houses. Everybody can be different … They’re all different, that’s why they gravitated to the ties,” Dutterer said, noting that her children and neighbor’s child were decorating felt ties based on their individual Hogwarts house colors.
Meanwhile, Christina Christine brought her daughters to the Harry Potter Night for the first time Friday after they had recently begun reading the books and watching the films.
“This is our first Harry Potter event,” she said. “Both of my daughters are reading the books and we just started watching the movies. After they finish a book, we’ll watch a movie as a family. They were very excited when they heard the announcements at their school that this event was happening here.”
Christine said she appreciated how community events like this one provided a pause from technology as kids get to use their imaginations.
“It gets them away from electronics for a while and it gets them to socialize with other peers and engages them to be creative,” she said. “There are so many creative activities here. It’s just a positive thing that families can do together; we’re losing that in our country.”
Masino said one of his favorite parts about being a member of the library advisory committee is being able to make a difference in his school.
“It’s really good for all the new students,” he said. “Most of the committee this year has been freshmen and it’s been a great way for them to develop and learn about the school … They really get a sense of belonging in the committee because they get to actually get to do stuff for the school such as host a night as big as this with so many people coming.”
Dyar explained that the event is student-driven and that the members work together to research, brainstorm, organize and produce the events they came up with.
“I set aside a certain amount of my budget and they make decisions for the budget and they make decisions for the library and its programming,” she said.
Dyar said she identifies with the Ravenclaw house, and there is a lot she has learned from the students on the committee — particularly what types of events students will be passionate about.
“There are things that I have not been really excited about that they’ve come up with that have been wonderful,” she said.
On the committee, each student gets to play to their strengths and interests, Dyar said.
“We had one student who was very passionate about Harry Potter and she was also in Advanced Placement English and she really liked rhyming poetry, so she did all the riddles for our Breakout Boxes,” she said, adding that the student created elementary and high school versions of the Breakout Boxes for different ages and skill levels.
Dyar said she tries to get students to join when they are freshmen to give them a place where they can feel like they belong, and so they can make an impact on their school community.
“It’s a nice way for us to kind of pass the torch from generation to generation so to speak,” she said. “That cross-grade mentoring makes it less intimidating for the freshmen who are kind of freaked out about school … For them to be able to impact their school library in that kind of way as a freshman, that’s pretty exciting for them to see they can have an impact on the school.”