More than just a back to school barbecue

Minneapolis Public Schools ran out of meat.

More than 3,500 Eastsiders attended the district’s annual back to school barbecue. The lines outside Edison High School went on for more than a block Thursday night, as the community gathered to celebrate a new year.

Superintendent Ed Graff passed out ice cream, visited classrooms and introduced himself to “parents, Edison grads and community members with a great deal of community pride.”

Graff said he looks forward to classes starting Monday.

“I’m excited. Excited like students, like parents, like teachers,” he said.

Although this year the barbecue was a special opportunity to meet the new superintended, the tradition — now in its 10th year — has a special story and is meant to represent the alliance between students, families, businesses, community members and schools.

“It’s really designed as a statement to say, schools do better when the community cares about its success,” said Jenny Arneson, chair of the school board and an Edison graduate. “This is a chance to come together and unite around it.”

Arneson told the story of the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association coming together over 10 years ago to remove a drug house across the street from the high school.

“They decided the school needs to be the centerpiece of their community, and they needed to do everything they could to make it a safe place for students,” she said. “And then they had a barbecue to celebrate.”

Kurt Nowacki helped renovate the house and co-hosted the very first back to school barbecue.

“We cleared more than 100 hypodermic needles out of the basement. That’s how bad it was,” Nowacki said. “That’s where we were 10 years ago, compared to now.”

Nowacki was grilling hot dogs as the Night Stones, a band of Edison students, played on a stage across from the food tents. High schoolers compared schedules while younger students played at the park.

“When we were done, we thought: we have to do something to keep this mojo going. What are we going to do? We’re going to have a barbecue,” he said. “It’s cool stuff.”

The event is organized and funded by community sponsors.

Tammy Rusnacko, a parent volunteer, said the barbecue reminds her of growing up in a small town.

“It’s like a small town event in the middle of the city,” Rusnacko said. “It reassures parents and community members that our high schools are an asset and not something to be afraid of.”

Cavarcia Walker brings her three children to the event every year.

“It’s nice. You get to meet other parents and staff,” Walker said. “The neighborhood gets together and it gives people a chance to network.”

Beyond it’s historical significance and the excitement of back to school events, the barbecue is a celebration of Minneapolis Public Schools achieving its goal of establishing lasting family and community partnerships.

“Every year it gets bigger,” Arneson said. “I know of no other event like this in the city.”