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Festival’s unity is worth celebrating

For 20 years now, one Saturday in the spring has been the most special in Peterborough. It’s the day of the annual Children and the Arts Festival. Every year, perhaps after a quick pancake breakfast at the Unitarian Church, kids swarm through the streets downtown. Dance companies — ranging from the tiniest of ballerinas to high schoolers eager to showcase their hip-hop skills — take over the Town House and the Unitarian Church. And the highlight is always the parade of children and adults carrying giant puppets that winds down the hill from the elementary school to Putnam Park, as crowds line the sidewalk cheering them on.

Children and the Arts is a true celebration, and it’s not just a Peterborough event. While the festival is not officially connected to the ConVal School District, many of the performers at this year’s festival on Saturday will be there through their participation in ConVal extracurricular activities. Just take a quick scan through the program. The ConVal Drum Line will lead the parade. The South Meadow School dance team and New Hampshire Dance Institute groups made up of students in the district’s elementary schools will perform. The Clef Hangers — an a cappella group from the high school — the Antrim Elementary School Singers and the Great Brook School Singers will entertain. Drummers from Antrim Elementary will be in Putnam Park. Films by ConVal High School students and animations by Peterborough Elementary School fourth-graders will be screened at the community theater. Great Brook School students will show off their improv skills. And in keeping with this year’s festival theme — Puppet Palooza — elementary school kids from Hancock, Antrim and Peterborough will be showing off their creations.

Of course, other area schools are well represented too. Students from the Well, Cobb Meadow School and High Mowing School are also on the program. Many kids from Jaffrey, Rindge, New Ipswich, Wilton and other nearby towns will be in Peterborough on Saturday. But it’s wonderful to see an event like Children and the Arts that draws people from the nine ConVal towns together at a time when the district is facing challenges that threaten to pull it apart.

ConVal School Board member Erik Thibault has spoken recently at School Board and Selectmen’s Advisory Committee meetings about the need for people to think of the district as a whole, not just as a collection of towns. The possibility that some of ConVal’s elementary schools might reach the point where enrollment is too small for them to be viable is an understandable concern. After voters in March rejected both options for possible changes in the district’s structure, the School Board will have to start over again, and it’s unclear what direction it will take.

In the meantime, the Children and the Arts Festival is clearly a unifying element, a day that draws people from all corners of ConVal and beyond to celebrate together. It also showcases the strengths of the local school district, and that’s something to celebrate as well.

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