SPARKS — The old Robert Mitchell School was a two-story brick building with a bell tower, built on Prater Way in 1905. Originally called “The Grammar School,” the name was changed to honor the first superintendent. There were 12 grades taught there with the elementary grades on the ground floor and the high school upstairs. The building was condemned in 1937, torn down and replaced with the present Robert Mitchell School on the same site.
Jack’s Carnival was first organized in the late fall of 1924. Miss Mary Lukens, a second grade teacher at Kate Smith School, had read in a teaching publication titled “The Normal Instructor” that an annual “Jacks Carnival” was a successful means to raise money for funding extra-curricular activities, furnish milk for children and supplement food, clothing and fuel for needy children and their families. Miss Lukens, Mrs. Lena Juniper and Mrs. Ruby Spoon brought the idea to the P.T.A. and it was organized as a community event.
At the time, the Sparks School District consisted of three elementary schools — Robert H. Mitchell, Mary Lee Nichols and Kate Smith — and Sparks Junior High and Sparks High School. All schools decided to take part in Jack’s Carnival thereby reducing the number of individual efforts for fundraising.
Originally, Jack’s Carnival carried out the theme representing “Jack” from Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. The original Jack’s Carnival Parade of costumed children was held on a Friday afternoon in late September. Jack’s Carnival was held the following day at Sparks High School with admission being 10 cents for adults and 5 cents for children.
Individual booths were set up around the theme, such as Little Jack Horner, a pie booth: Jack Frost, ice cream; Jack and Jill, apple cider booth; Queen of Hearts, cake booth; Jack-a-Dandy, candy booth; and Jack Straws, soft drinks. A spaghetti feed was provided by the middle school students and vaudeville skits were provided by the high school students.
Over the years, as Sparks grew, more and more schools joined in Jack’s Carnival every fall. Each year, representatives from the schools would meet to decide on a theme then choose which carnival booths and activities their schools would provide. Each year, on a Saturday morning in the fall, students dressed in costumes representing the theme, would meet at the Robert Mitchell School playground and then parade down Prater Way to Deer Park for Jack’s Carnival. The Sparks mayor would always lead the parade of school marching bands, drills teams, ROTC units, Sparks Fire Department and Sparks Police Department vehicles, and even Bertha the Elephant from the Sparks Nugget. Families from all over Sparks then enjoyed a day of food, carnival games and shows from local volunteer entertainers. Proceeds from the event were divided equally among the schools.
By the end of the century, most the schools had found it necessary to withdraw from Jack’s Carnival because of time constraints. Schools took advantage of other opportunities for fundraising offered by commercial fundraisers.
In the new century, Robert Mitchell School is the only school to keep Jack’s Carnival tradition alive. In 2000, Jack’s Carnival gained new dimension as “Jack’s Carnival of Arts.” Teachers Marilyn Naylor, Kathe Murders and Lynn Humphreys joined efforts to write a grant to bring artists to the school. For the next four years, through the support of Nevada Arts Council, Mervyn’s, Sparks Rotary Club, Mt. Rose Lions Club and First Independent Bank, students at Robert Mitchell and Kate Smith Schools enjoyed special experiences in the arts. All students enjoyed classes in painting by Ann O’Lear; clay by Marta Magistrali; dance by Mary Bennett; Native American Arts by Norma Smokey; and Native Nevada photography by Mark Vollmer.
In 2005, the original Jack’s Carnival concept was revived to a carnival held in the fall. Principal Eileen Rountree led the first parade of the century in 2006 by leading students in Halloween costumes around the school playground.
Thanks to the efforts of teacher Tod Cieszko in 2008, the students wore Robert Mitchell STAR T-shirts provided by First Independent Bank of Nevada and marched around the playground to the rousing music of the Sparks High School Band.
This year, the 87th Jack’s Carnival will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. today and will feature:
• Free dinner provided by the Reno Arches Lion’s Club
• Bounce House donated by the Boys & Girls club
• Raffle prizes
• Carnival games including Cakewalk, Wheel of Fortune, Glow Room, Penny Drop and Bingo
• Hawaiian dancers, folkloric dancers and Aztec dancers will perform on stage in the beautiful school auditorium.
Robert Mitchell School is located at 1216 Prater Way in Sparks. For more information, call Marilyn Naylor 353-5590 or email email@example.com.