Dance like nobody’s watching at Carlisle’s Friday Night Live

by Karina Coombs

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Brother and sister act at last month’s FNL. (Photo by Parissa Khayami)

[Reprinted from the original Carlisle Mosquito article found here.]

If you are in middle school and looking for a fun Friday night, Carlisle’s hottest club is FNL. Located in the gym and exercise room at the Carlisle Public School (CPS), and sponsored by the Carlisle Youth Commission, this place has everything: dancing, a professional DJ, snacks and drinks, basketball, ping pong, games, monthly theme parties and more.

First held in 1984, Friday Night Live, or FNL as it is known, is typically held the first Friday of each month from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and is open to Carlisle students in grades six through eight whether or not they attend CPS. Admission is $8 and snacks and drinks are available for purchase, with the proceeds from  both directly supporting the program. Registration is required for FNL and can be done online through the Carlisle Recreation Department. Students may bring an out of town guest provided the student’s parent or guardian stays as a chaperone.

An emphasis on inclusion when it matters

Middle school brings a lot of change for adolescents: new teachers, new responsibilities and expectations and new social pressures. Wanting to fit in and be included, such as invitations to social events outside of school—or a lack thereof—takes on greater importance as kids begin defining who they are apart from their families.

Inclusion is a major theme for Carlisle Youth Commission (CYC) Chair Lauree Eckler when it comes to talking about the program her committee has sponsored for 33 years. Eckler describes FNL as a place for kids to get face-to-face time with their current friends or meet new ones, but more importantly as a place where all kids are invited and included. “[It’s] is a safe, inclusive environment for your kids to come and socialize with their peers,” she says. Because Carlisle is such a small town, Eckler also sees FNL as an opportunity for each class to interact and strengthen their relationships before heading off to Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) at the end of middle school.

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Carlisle Youth Commission members Kathy MacDonald (left) and Lauree Eckler are joined by Steve Pixley at the recent FNL Dodgeball Tournament at CPS. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Brought to you by the Carlisle Youth Commission

Created in 1971 when it was voted in at Town Meeting (TM), the CYC has changed over the years both in terms of the number of its members as well as its focus. At its inception, the CYC had three members, but subsequent TMs increased this number and it now stands at six. The current board includes Eckler, Kathy MacDonald, Sara Bardzik, Karen Leterri, David Newman and Greg Clark. Eckler would like to see a seventh member.

Throughout the 70s, as interest in the organization ebbed and flowed, the CYC took on a number of projects, from conducting studies and planning programs related to youth concerns, to publishing a guide for local employment opportunities. In more recent times, the CYC has focused solely on running FNL and an annual Dodgeball Tournament. The board is funded each year as part of the town budget, with Eckler noting that a significant portion of the funds is used for the DJ.

Members are sworn in at Town Hall with the Town Clerk and operate with the same rules and requirements of any other town committee, with the addition of a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) background check. At least one member of the CYC is also required to be certified in crowd management through the Carlisle Fire Department and is responsible for the event’s permit and a series of safety checks the night of the event, including fire systems, exit lights and accounting for students in case of an emergency. Eckler, the designated crowd manager, reports that on average FNL has between 50-75 students in attendance, but at times has had as many as 150 and as few as 30.

CYC members serve as chaperones at each FNL, signing kids in, monitoring doors, bathrooms and other areas and keeping kids inside the building until pickup at 9:30. Students who must leave before 9:30 are required to be signed out. Eckler explains that they also keep eyes out for kids who may be off to the side and encourage them to rejoin group activities. Along with an experienced and trusted manager who is in charge of setting up, purchasing snacks, keeping sports and other equipment and providing additional supervision, CYC relies on a number of adult chaperones at each event, with parents or guardians asked to volunteer for one event per year.

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Fans turned out in droves for the January 2017 Dodgeball Tournament, which also included 5th grade CPS teams. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Capturing the moment without a phone

Another important theme for Eckler when it comes to FNL is the absence of cell phones, which are prohibited inside the event. Photos and videos are also not allowed. Eckler believes that the absence of electronics gives kids an opportunity to socialize face to face, but more importantly to be present in the moment without the distraction of a screen. “It’s great. You see it,” she says. “They dance and talk and have fun.”

Getting kids to give FNL a try is easier some years than others. Eckler notes that sixth graders tend to be the largest group in attendance because it is their first year being able to participate and they are excited. The January Dodgeball tournament showed this to be true, with dozens of sixth graders in attendance, some playing in the tournament and an equal number cheering from the stands.

Eighth graders can be a tougher group to attract, according to Eckler, but she is hoping to see increased attendance as the year progresses and is thinking of ways to pique their interest by getting them more directly involved with the event, possibly through class representatives for FNL or having classes sponsor a specific month and choose the theme. She would also like to see an end of the year formal dance, which has happened in past years.

While eighth graders are the oldest students at CPS, Eckler explains that they will soon be both the youngest students at CCHS and also represent a minority population as Carlisle residents. “The three years [at CPS] goes by really fast and you do want those core groups of friends when you go to [CCHS],” she says, adding that FNL provides an opportunity for the class to be together in one space.

FNL fundraiser for 9/11 scholarship fund

In recognition of the upcoming NCAA basketball championships, the March 3 FNL will feature a March Madness theme and include a hoop fest and free-throw contest in addition to other games and activities as well as dancing and refreshments.

The event will also serve as a fundraiser for the William Christopher Hunt scholarship fund at the Sacred Heart School in Kingston, Rhode Island. Hunt, brother to Carlisle physical education teacher Dan Hunt, was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 at the age of 32. The William C. Hunt ’87 Memorial Scholarship was established in his memory as a member of the class of 1987. Admission to the fundraiser is $11 and attendees will be given raffle tickets for the chance to win prizes. In 2012, the fundraiser raised $800.

Ed. note: The reporter would also like to acknowledge and thank David Freedman for his research on the early days of the CYC which was shared through Ms. Eckler.

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