By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Hogwarts Family Fun Night at Rosendale Elementary School can be described a hundred different ways, but perhaps most succinct is this: It’s convincing.
The community night is a fundraiser and social event organized by the PTO. This year, it was attended by more than 400 students and family members — a light turnout compared with most years, one organizer noted.
The theme always follows the Harry Potter book series. There’s Quidditch, the sport that’s played while flying through the air on brooms. There are potions, a wand shop, and a forbidden forest scavenger hunt. In the Room of Transformations, would-be Hogwarts attendees (that’s the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, for you non-magic muggles) can have their hair, faces and arms painted to match the colors of the house they were sorted into.
In the Quidditch Arena, which is a gymnasium on most other days, physical education teacher JoAnn Sabourin strides across the floor in a cape and pointed hat decorated with the crests of each Hogwarts house: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. She holds a microphone to be heard over the racket of ecstatic children and their spectators.
She leads them in a promise: “I pledge to play fair, to play safe and to have fun!”
Sabourin doesn’t even need to refresh her students on the rules of Quidditch, which appears to be a sort of freeze tag-lacrosse hybrid. They find their spots, and when she says “go,” they fling themselves into action.
Hanging overhead are multicolored hula hoops, strung from ropes and dangling from the ceiling. In the kids’ minds, though, the ropes are gone, and they’re held up by magic. The players carry plastic lacrosse sticks instead of brooms, but it would be inadvisable to tell the young Quidditch players that. They wouldn’t believe you, anyway.
Rosendale students’ investment in their Hogwarts education begins during their first year at the school, when they are sorted into one of the four houses. Usually, that’s kindergarten, but students who join when they’re older get sorted, too.
Gigi Butkewitsch was sorted into the Hufflepuff house when she moved to Niskayuna last year, as a fifth-grader. The sorting ceremony at Rosendale is just like the one in the books, at Hogwarts: a talking hat is placed on the student’s head, says his or her name, ponders for a moment, then announces a placement. The magic that powers the hat is a secret, and many kids — particularly the ones who are sorted as kindergartners — don’t figure out how it’s done until they’re much older.
“When they said Hufflepuff, everyone on the Hufflepuff team was like, ‘Woo-hoo!’ ” Butkewitsch said. She really enjoyed being placed on a team right away, since she had just moved all the way from Brazil.
“It helped me work together with my friends,” she said. Now in middle school, she visited this year’s Hogwarts Family Fun Night with her little brother, who goes to Rosendale.
It’s a huge task to transform a normal elementary school into an enchanted one. The process begins in early September each year, with three event co-chairs plus several other dedicated helpers planning non-stop for food vendors, a raffle, a magician, a potions master, and the recruitment of over 100 volunteers.
“You can’t even put a number on it,” one co-chair, Glen Teichman, said about all the people who participated.
Teichman is what you might call a Hogwarts veteran. His oldest son, now an eighth-grader, attended every single edition from kindergarten until fifth grade. His daughter, now in third grade, is the enthusiastic Hogwarts attendee now.
Almost every kid’s favorite event is Quidditch, said another co-chair, Nadine Duffy, whose children are in seventh and fifth grades. Each year, she said, P.E. teacher Sabourin stokes their enthusiasm for the event by teaching them the game.
“Ms. Sabourin is amazing,” Duffy said. “She’s the one who really gets the kids excited.”
Excited doesn’t even begin to cover it for most of the attendees, who hustled energetically through the halls from one attraction to another.
First-grader Bryan Yetto (a Ravenclaw, in case you were wondering) had a hard time picking a favorite event. First, he thought, the raffle room was the best — where else do you have a chance of winning an awesome toy at school? But then, the Room of Transformations was pretty cool too — when else can you have your hair painted blue at school? He was also pretty proud of his Quidditch game, which has improved since his kindergarten year.
“I got a golden snitch!” he said excitedly. (This is a very good thing in the game of Quidditch.)
Even the volunteers were enjoying themselves at Hogwarts night. Union College sophomores Bri Seid and Greta Schindler gladly spent their Friday evenings helping out a sorority sister who babysits a Rosendale student. They handed out scavenger hunt cards and candy outside the Forbidden Forest.
“I’m obsessed with Harry Potter,” Seid said with a laugh.
Schindler said the whole thing made her inner child a little jealous.
“The turnout is incredible,” she said. “I never had anything like this at my elementary school.”
The two agreed that stepping out of their college routines and watching their friends surrounded by happy kids was a welcome change … magical, one might even say.