Early Birds Flock Together: Donuts with Grown-Ups becoming a favorite tradition at Park Elementary

Early Birds Flock Together: Donuts with Grown-Ups becoming a favorite tradition at Park Elementary

By Tyler Dahlgren

Headlights illuminate Kearney’s Park Elementary on a Friday morning, about half an hour earlier than students typically start spilling into the school.

The kids, each with a grown-up guest in tow, are here early and with smiles on their faces. The reason? Fresh, warm donuts are being served in the cafeteria. For an elementary student, and for anybody really, is there any better incentive?

“The best part about Donuts with Grown-Ups is getting to see your friends and their guests walking in and welcoming everyone,” said fifth-grader Clara Wagner-Wiechman, one of the P.A.R.K. (Park Ambassadors for Respect/Responsibility and Kindness) student ambassadors clad in matching red shirts. “Also, eating the donuts is pretty fun, too.”

Donuts with Grown-Ups started at Park Elementary three years ago. Originally, it was held in the spring before being flipped to the fall as a mid-semester reconnection opportunity for everyone, said principal Chance Waggoner. An additional Donuts with Grown-Ups was held Monday morning, as well.

“We just wanted to create another experience for friends and families to get together and cultivate a sense of community,” said Waggoner, who stood by the school’s front entrance and welcomed visitors before P.A.R.K. ambassadors guided them to the donuts and coffee.

Park Elementary’s school network knows no bounds, stretching across the Kearney community. Waggoner said the school extends invitations to district administration, community members, neighbors, friends, families and even the Kearney Police Department, who had at least six officers scattered throughout the cafeteria enjoying an early breakfast with the students and their guests.

“Oftentimes when kids are in school or at home with their parents, they don’t get a lot of police interaction,” said Officer Grant Buschkoetter. “So getting an opportunity to have conversations and interactions with a population that we as road patrol don’t often get to have is really a great experience.”

It’s a great experience all around, said Waggoner. Mutually beneficial, both for the students and the officers, who spent Friday morning snapping photos with kids.

“There are way worse ways to spend a Friday morning,” said Officer Ben Dostal. “It just kind of warms your heart, being invited to be a part of things like this. This is the future of our communities, the kids in our schools right now. If we can foster these relationships now, it’s going to benefit us and them going into the future.”

Near the end of Grown-Ups with Donuts, as the clock ticked closer to first period, students crammed in close for a picture with the KPD officers. It was a special moment in a morning full of special moments.

“It’s pretty cool that they took the time to come here and eat donuts with us,” said fifth-grader Ruby Martin. 

Most importantly, Waggoner explained, it’s a chance for his students to see the police for what they really are. Heroes. In the Kearney community, and everywhere.

“They do a great job in our Kearney community, and I think communities everywhere, obviously,” he said. “They do a really great job about being intentional in building that relationship with our schools.”

Fifth-grader and P.A.R.K. ambassador Pranav Vaghela helped greet visitors as they entered Park Elementary. 

“It’s cool getting to see all the new people that you wouldn’t normally get to see,” said Vaghela.

He said he loves his school because of how nice everyone is, and it was fun for him to be a part of that welcoming culture, which was on full display Friday morning.

“I love Park because it’s not as big as some of the other schools in our area,” said fifth-grader Clifford Wagner, another P.A.R.K. ambassador. “We all know each other, and we have fun welcoming people into our school.”

Waggoner said that Donuts with Grown-Ups is an easy morning, a quick and free event that embodies the school’s close-knit culture and spirit of support and encouragement.

“You grab a donut and some coffee and spend twenty minutes with our kids and our community, and that’s about it,” the principal said. “It’s just a really good opportunity to connect.”