T H E 6 T H F L O O R

Life in 6 Land

T H E  6 T H  F L O O R - Life in 6 Land

Minecraft Halloween

minecraft-halloweenJust give me a minute and think of this. There are MILLIONS of people who have played and experienced Minecraft created by Notch and later developed and published by Mojang. In the many years of online gaming, I have seen very few games that had this sort of impact, not online online but offline. I am sure if we wait long enough we will get a Minecraft movie out of Hollywood. You laugh, I am sure some producer is trying to find a way to capitalize on this moneymaker.  While Halloween 2014 hasn’t quite got here, the Harvest Carnival at Vintage Parkway has come and gone but it has given me time to reflect and consider our options for a Minecraft Halloween in 2015.

What if your kids could walk though the epic world of Minecraft. Now don’t get me wrong Minecraft isn’t all that scary, unless of course you fall into a darkened hole and hear, “Ssss…” Could we capitalize on Minecraft and turn it into a haunted house for the Harvest Carnival? It would appeal to near every kid and quite possibly many parents. The gore factor is minimal with no blood being spilled in the actual game. The game features aspects of Halloween; pumpkins, skeletons, zombies, corn stalks, spiders and the present, creeper.

While we are over a year away from next year’s Harvest Carnival, I am excited about the prospect of exploring this idea and potentially capitalizing on the phenomena that is Minecraft. Just consider the wow factor and faces on kids when they come face to face with a creeper or meet Steve. I am sure we could go as far as introducing Stampylonghead and iBallisticSquid to the mix.

The layout could include some caves covered in diamond, gold and redstone, maybe add a house with zombies trying to break down the wooden door. Torches could be mounted on the walls to provide light and keep the spiders and creepers away. The possibilities are endless, much like the game. If your imagination can dream it, you can build it.

This would make plastic walls more valuable, but the would need to be painted in square blocks depending on what sort of area we were creating. Inexpensive LED lights could bring blocks to life as redstone, as well as power torches. Colored cellophane could provide the necessary color changes to white LED lights. PVC could still be used as a frame with plastic and cardboard bring used to create the necessary effects. All creatures could built using cardboard.

Right now let’s get through Halloween but I am going to further delve into the realm of Mincraft and attempt to use it as a theme for next year’s haunt.

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2014 6th Fright

haunted_failureI’ve had a few days to reflect on the 2014 6th Fright this year, which was the centerpiece of the Vintage Parkway Elementary School Harvest Carnival. It took place this past Friday from 6pm to 8pm. Overall, I would say guests through the haunted were pleased with their experience. Me on the other hand walked away a bit discouraged and frustrated with the lack coordination and help, as volunteers were few and far between.

After nearly 3 weeks of our time and effort, Mark and I were excited to put the finishing touches on the haunt and open the doors to make sure everyone could get an opportunity to experience the 6th Fright. I arrived 2.5 hours early in order to set up the queue and ticket table and do some finishing touches inside. Everything was moving forward as planned and Mark arrived a few minutes later and started in on the checklist of things we had to finish.

One by one teachers brought me their permission slips for the kids who signed up to participate in the haunt. Mark had enlisted the help of another dad, Steve, who we used inside the haunt operate one of the drop panels. One by one we had teenage kids roll up saying they were supposed to help.

Thankfully Mark and I completed our listed and checked out the lighting, props and sound. Everything was in order and we were excited and ready to go, so we thought. Leading up to this day we were in need of 6 adults to help the haunt be successful. Mark and I were already going to be inside and two other adults would be required, one to operate the other drop panel and another to be dressed up as an insane clown. The other two adults would take tickets and coordinate the guides with a group every 1 minute, moving them into the haunt.

As the clock ticked closer to 6pm, we still had no adults helpers and my frustration level began to rise. Sometime between last Harvest Carnival and this year something was lost. It was the organization of Susan, a 5th grade teacher last year who coordinated the efforts for the guides and scarers. Now that she is a 4th grade teacher, we missed that coordination piece. That responsibility, unbeknownst to us feel on our shoulders, yet we didn’t think anything off it until it was too late.

As usual with PTA events such as this volunteers are few and far between. It’s sad that parents seem to have no time for their kids or don’t want to volunteer for varies reasons. In fact I heard a complaint from a parent who was upset because their child was there to be a scarer and was not being used. You know what? Maybe if you volunteered we wouldn’t of had this problem. As it was, 6:20pm rolled around and I had still not opened the haunt, Mark and I were not even in our costumes.

Finally we had two teenage girls walk up, the queue was already full and the looks of frustration were on some of the parents faces. I gave the girls a quick run down of what they needed to do, which wasn’t difficult but something was lost in translation. The haunt finally opened about 30 minutes late.

Thankfully Kim, from the office staff came up to the front and I attempted to give her a run down on what we needed. So now our teenage girls (both of them) were taking tickets and counting people, Kim did her best to manage a growing group of 5th graders, some I am sure who never got to scare or guide because of the lack of organization and confusion at 6pm.  Mark and I were very thankfully Kim came up and did her best to manage the situation, which by this time was not going according to plan.

Inside the haunt, I only used two 5th graders as opposed to the five I had planned. One of the teenage females, who was dressed in costume took control of the other drop window, which didn’t please me but we needed a body. Her lack of enthusiasm and failure to follow directions didn’t help the situation. In fact she cut out before the haunt was over when her drop panel broke. Again, more frustration on the night.

All was not lost, the haunt seemed to be very well received by everyone who went through it. We had some very positive comments, as well as a lots of screaming from kids through out the twisting, turning corridors. The best comments of the night came after the haunt was over and two moms said they had never seen so many kids come out of the exit crying. That alone made Mark and I feel we put together a successful haunt for the Harvest Carnival.

I only had to escort one group of 3 girls (5th graders) out of the haunt as they came running around the corner and nearly took out two walls to the dot room, while rolling into the sheet. It was unnecessary and walked them to the emergency exit and told them not to return. Aside from that incident no other kids were tossed out, but I can confirm the crying. Lots of kids inside were scared, which is great because that was part of the goal of a haunted house, to scare you.

We had one equipment failure, as I eluded to earlier with the drop panel. We had built the window using two and three inch screws. The gate latch, which was screwed to the actually panel that dropped to the ground sheared off, requiring he actor to hold the panel up in place before dropping it. Unfortunately the actor running that window cut out without my knowledge leaving the window open for probably the last 30 minutes of the haunt. Very discouraging to see when I would walk through the haunt, back to the entrance to escort new scarers into position.

I had planned for a better turn over of guests through the haunt. Maybe I set my expectations too high, based on the success we had last year. I was hoping for about 800 people to go through in 2 hours. As it turned out, the counter at the entrance showed 364 as the final tally. Nowhere near the foot traffic I had hoped for, which seemed to cap off the night for me.

Nearly 3 weeks of work, time and effort going into this haunt for what equated to about 90 minutes of being open. We might reevaluate the level of effort we put in next year, especially if we continue to get no volunteers. I don’t fault anyone on the PTA board, as they all other duties to attend to during the evening. The teacher have other duties as well during the night. Not sure there is even blame to place, even through we may think there is.

Unlike last year I had to draw up a letter to the 5th grade teachers, talk to each class about what the positions and responsibilities would be this year in the haunt and finally make up a matrix, based on 20 minute increments of time for kids to sign up for to act as a guide or scarer. This was work I didn’t get involved in last year. That was followed by a teacher asking me if I had the permission slips? I knew nothing about them.

So maybe we live and learn each year. But the experience this year was disappointing and will reconsider what next year brings, especially if we don’t see volunteers come forward and help. Between Mark and I, there are 3 years left before our kids are out of Vintage Parkway and I can’t think of a Harvest Carnival without a haunted house, but that might become reality if other parents don’t make time to get involved and help out.

 

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6th Floor Haunted House: Tonight

enter_if_you_dareAfter nearly 3 weeks of construction and countless hours of work, the Vintage Parkway 6th Floor Haunt is ready to open doors. The haunted house has been in development for nearly a year, unfortunately some of the ideas I had hoped to include this year fell by the wayside, as I ran out of time, money or just made the decision not to include it this year. Tackling on this project last year, we failed to develop a theme in which to build around, so buying assorted props and adding more “sutff” to the haunt was how we approached this project.

This year, in the months leading up to the haunt I decided a carnival/fun house theme would work very well with the overall Harvest Carnival theme that the school does to support this PTA sponsored event. By the time I got going, it was too late to implement this theme in conjunction with the Harvest Carnival, but we were able to include a few.

Mark Greer and I spent many hours, between shuttling kids to practice and other events, as well as work and other priorities to put together the 2014 version of the haunt that will debut (and end) tonight beginning at 6pm. While it’s tiresome work and at time expensive we had a great time being together the resources to make this haunt happen. Vintage Parkway is going to have a great set of resources when Mark and I no longer have kids in the elementary school, it’s my hope VOLUNTEERS can keep it going.

After walking out of the stage last night, I felt good that we had accomplished something this year. Unlike last year, there were areas that felt incomplete and we were rushing to throw things together in order to open up on time. Problems plagued us before the doors opened and we had to settle for how the haunt looked. This year, we were better organized and many of the resources were already in our possession. We had most of the material for the layout, minus the wood we needed for our 16′ hallway we built.

Unfortunately, I probably spent more than the PTA President wanted me to (sorry Amy), but as we were developing and putting together the haunt, we have been trashing many old props that are damaged and old, which wouldn’t be used in ANY haunt. I know re-purposing older props does happen, but some of these were not worth making that effort. We did however add many new props, most clown related to be included in our haunt the next 2-3 years. We picked up numerous masks, a few costumes and other hanging items that we have strategically placed this year.

It’s funny, but I am already thinking “next year we will…” and we have not even opened the doors for the 2 hour Harvest Carnival this year. We will have to see just how organized it is. We request more help than we have asked for in years past. We will have 5 actors (responsible teens or adults) in the haunt, not only participating, but as chaperones, in order to monitor kids (usually middle school and high schoolers) who seem to think it’s fun to f*ck around and piss off Mark and myself. In addition to the actors we are including 4-5 fifth graders, who participate as  a “scarer” or “guide” for a 20 minute period of time. While I was hoping for a list of 90 students to round out the matrix I created, we did get 57 students to help out, some I am sure will stick around for more than their allotted 20 minutes.

I have been looking back to last year and some of the problems we had. The biggest problem, people purchasing tickets to use at the Harvest Carnival. That piece was our of our hands, but many people were let through without providing tickets, which on some level was fine. We also failed to have enough flashlights for the guides to us, so it seemed the line was never ending and groups of people were not being processed at a good rate.

This year I am hoping for a total of 800 people to go through in 2 hours. Those might be some loft goals, but I think we could achieve that number. We know kids love to go through more than once. Parents will usually go through with younger kids and friends of kids who go to Vintage Parkway usually end up showing up. So while I am not dwelling on the number of people or the amount of money the haunt makes, I will be curious to see how well we do in 2 hours.

With the time and effort we put in, it would be great if the school district and PTA could run the haunt for the Harvest Carnival on Friday and then for a few hours on Saturday. Not sure if there would be any added cost to have some staff on hand, as well as a janitor and PTA folks to manage the haunt. Might be an opportunity to make the teachers even more money, which in turn is spent on the kids.

The other idea we will look to implement next year, adding a photo booth in the haunt. Just like the roller coaster rides at Disneyland, I checked with the gal who does much of our photography at events and it’s definitely affordable. Just like selling ticket for food, drink and the attractions at the Harvest Carnival, we would sell tickets for a photo and provide the individuals with a numbered receipt in order to claim their picture. Add a $2 or $3 charge and it’s more money donated to Vintage Parkway.

Regardless of the number of people who walk the haunt or the amount of money we make, being safe, scary the kids and having fun are the priorities for this evening. We look forward to having a great time “clowning around” the 6th Floor Haunt. As a reminder, the Harvest Carnival begins at 6pm at Vintage Parkway Elementary School in Oakley. 

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Haunted House: Update

scaredHaunted house update, as it’s just under a week until the doors open for the 6th Floor Haunt at Vintage Parkway Elementary School. This is the second year Mark Greer and I have been in charge and have update last year’s layout to hopefully bring forth another successful haunted house, as the centerpiece for the school’s Harvest Carnival. Back in July I thought I was well ahead of the game, I had the layout nearly complete, we had many props already to go and should have been able to come in what I spent last year (just over $1000, which was reimbursed by the school PTA. Thanks a lot!) Unfortunately, as life goes you get busy and work for a project in October gets pushed to the back burner until you MUST get going in order to complete the project.

I hit that point last week, as I probably overdid it when it comes to what I spent in order to get the haunt done. But it’s materials and props that are needed if the school wants to continue making money (for the teachers accounts) during this carnival. Thankfully there are so many other attractions going on during these event, but the draw is the haunted house. Take nothing away from the ladies who have spent countless hours prepping, making signs, coming up with games for the kids to play and deciding on what food and drink will be served. It all takes time and volunteers in order to be successful.

As for the haunt, we were about 9 days later getting started. School let out on the last Friday of August for 2 weeks, which allowed us (last year) to get started building the haunt on the school stage. This year, we were delayed because the janitor had to wax the floors in the auditorium, which put on hold. We got access to the stage Wednesday of last week and started erecting PVC pipe and 16 feet of walls we were going to use. Actually, as Mark and I talked about, it might have been a blessing in disguise, as it gave us time to hang out and build the 16 feet of walls we were going to use. We made use of this time and didn’t sit back doing nothing.

Even with long hours and constant work, we are still behind. Maybe that is common or maybe it just appears that way. The entire layout took parts of 2 days to get build. The layout did go up much faster this year, thanks in part to the advanced planning and the fact most all of the PVC pipe was cut and I had laid it out in July and bundled it together by sections. Much like last year, we ran out of room as we approached the last section of the haunt. As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. I know I measured and remeasured, yet we still had to make some changes on the fly. Thankfully I had accounted for potential changes to the layout and we were able to fit the entire layout in, almost as it was drawn up.

One thing we failed to decide upon early was a theme for our haunt, which is key to anyone wanting to tackle this challenge. Last year, being my first year it was a matter of just filling each room and making it fun for everyone. This year, the theme came to me too late and I was not able to order enough props and have another project half completed, as I await the resources to finish it. Next year (and we still haven’t had the harvest carnival this year) we will be moving to a fun house/carnival theme centered around evil clowns.

It’s amazing to hear and see the reactions of people when the word, “clowns” are mentioned. Something seems to strike a chord with individuals that evil clowns are not something they want to be associated with. Mark and I on the other hand saw this video:

…and we knew we had a theme we could bring to our haunt. While it’s only the first year with clowns, we know this will be a continuing theme for the next 2 years until my son is done with elementary school. We have also added a new scare to the haunt, but I won’t go into until after the haunt, as it’s the centerpiece of our haunt this year. With any luck I will have some video to upload after the haunt to show the reactions we got.

We are bringing back the dot room, which was very successful last year. I know many kids will expect this and know there will be someone in this room, hopefully with an upgrade in the black spandex costume (that’s me) with the dots painted on it will improve how I blend in to the walls.

clownsMark will be our king clown this year, I had intended to give him a nice large area to run around in scaring kids. With the changes to the layout his realm is not as large as I would have liked, but should still prove to be a good scare. We are also bringing back the hall of faces, which didn’t work well last year because I waited too long to buy white faced masks and paint them fluorescent colors to be lit up under a black light.

While there is still confuse and questions to be answered about the haunt, things are coming together. My hope is we won’t be running around on Friday, hours before the haunt putting finishing touches on decoration. Hopefully we can have all of that done by Thursday and relax a bit before the lights go off and the frights begin.

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Right On! Write In!

vote_writeinNear the end of the 2013-2014 school year I was introduced by my son’s teacher to a third grade teacher, who was the Vice President of OUTA (Oakley Union Teachers Association), as I showed an interest in possibly running for the school board. As a volunteer and PTA board member, I wanted to become more involved and this position was a worthwhile venture.

Under her instruction I attended a few school board meetings, following the agenda and listened to what was going on in the Oakley Elementary Unified School District. After a few meetings, the Superintendent introduced himself to me and I explained my reasons for attending the meetings and considering a run for an upcoming board seat in November and offered his support

Over the summer I procrastinated on my submitting my paperwork, it was always, “next week I will get to it.” I was having a challenge finding a position I wanted to run under. I contacted teachers I knew and inquired about issues and complaints they had with the district in an attempt to find a position I would be passionate about in order to back my campaign.

That passion never appeared. As deadline day for filing approached I still had not written my statement. On the day I was supposed to be submitting my statement, I was finally writing it. The words, the passion never came together in a single 500 word statement. I finished a rough draft and decided to email the union and apologize for getting their hopes up, but I would not be running for the school board.

As a new school year dawned on us, I started volunteering again at school and faced my PTA responsibilities at treasurer. I was approached by the PTA President, who was inquiring on behalf of the teachers if I would accept a nomination as a write in candidate for the school board. After the filing date passed I had not thought much about it, but told her I would accept the nomination as a write in candidate.

While facing an uphill battle, the teachers are backing my campaign as a write in candidate for the Oakley School Board. Business cards (as seen above) were made and distributed to myself and Kim Beede, the other challenger to one of two seats up during the election.

Since that time I have had an interview with the OUTA political action committee, answering their questions regarding my position on a number of different topics. I have also given feedback to a new of the local newspapers as well. My position is “Kids First” as school starts and ends with our kids. Any other topic usually impacts the kids. I support OUTA, as the teachers in our district are in dire need of a raise and continue working at 2007 wages. Sadly the district has not released excess funds in their reserve for things such as raises or material for the newly implemented CCSS (Common Core State Standards). I have been asked by a few individuals on Facebook where I stand on CCSS. As I replied to another parent,

I can’t say I am a big supporter of it. Started seeing it last year, when my son’s second grade teacher started teaching CCSS to them (addition/subtraction). I had to ask the aide how to do the math because I had no idea. I don’t complain about it, since it appears it is here to stay. However, I do think the district needs to shake some money loose from the reserve fund in order to get teachers the necessary materials in order to teach from. CCSS is not only requiring students to make an effort, but teachers as well to adapt and learn the methods. I also think that some students who aren’t up to speed will end up falling behind very quickly and won’t be able to get caught up. The sad thing is many students go home and ask their parents for help. Guess what? They can’t help because they don’t know the methods and revert back to, “this is how I did math when I was your age” answer. I, like many grew up in that age, asking kids to learn new methods that make them think is great, but I don’t like how it was rolled out without the necessary cornerstones in place for the teachers.

Regardless of the outcome, I am very pleased to have the support of the teachers union. It’s really a wonderful feeling, as a father and volunteer to have all these great individuals coming together to provide support and their endorsement. Hopefully the results turn out in my favor after the election, regardless I have nothing but praise for the teachers and everything they do at Vintage Parkway and the other schools, both in our district and outside. Education is very important and these folks do a great job teaching our kids.

My name is STEPHEN TOUMI and I am running as a write in candidate for the Oakley Unified School Board.

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