Junior Assembly brings eighth-graders from private schools together to get to know each other before high school

Many children in the Preston Hollow area may have attended the same private schools for 10 years or more, from pre-k to eighth-grade. Moving on to high school for these eighth-graders can be daunting, but the idea of going to a completely new high school and meeting new kids can also be exciting.

To help ease this transition, a group of Dallas parents formed Junior Assembly of North Dallas back in the 1940s, to provide an opportunity for their eighth-graders attending private school to meet their future classmates in a safe and fun setting.

The membership base has evolved over the years and includes a little over 500 kids from Christ the King Catholic School, Good Shepherd Episcopal School, Prince of Peace Catholic School, St. Monica Catholic School, Alcuin School,  and St. Rita Catholic School, as well as a few other parochial and private schools in Lakewood and East Dallas — St. John’s Episcopal School, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School, St. Patrick Catholic School and Lakehill Prep. Other Junior Assembly (JA) organizations also have been formed that include other private schools in the area.

JA is a completely volunteer-based organization and is run by parent sponsors who form a board and represent each school, including a president, secretary and treasurer. The participating school parents divide up and the teams plan and coordinate parties throughout the year beginning in the fall and finishing in the spring of each eighth-grade year. Participating school parents are also asked to attend the parties to help chaperone.

Junior Assembly of North Dallas President Tara DePompei says, “Being involved in JA is opening up a new world not only for my son but for me as well. Many of these kids have been together since they were 3 years old and are excited about what’s coming next. It’s nice to be part of this transition to help our eighth-graders and those from other schools to meet, as well as to help me and other moms and parents from these other schools get connected.”

For those eighth-graders who are unable to pay the three-party fee, scholarships are available and families do take advantage of this offering each year. “We want all eighth-graders in the participating schools to be able to join in the fun,” says Christy Wilson, JA treasurer.

Prior to each party, the team members meet monthly beginning after the school year starts and get busy planning the parties — agreeing on a theme, designing invitations, finding the venue, planning the food, arranging for DJs and security and choosing the attire.

The first party of this school year was held at the Frontiers of Flight Museum and was a Jerseys and Jeans theme, which had been successfully done during past JA years. Since this was the party where all the students would meet for the first time, the party coordinators helped break the ice. Each attendee was given a person, place or thing sticker and they were to find their counterpart within the crowd (salt/pepper hot/cold, up/down, left/right, east/west, etc.). Once the matches were made, the kids were entered for a chance to win iTunes gift cards.

“We wanted the icebreaker to be a fun way for the kids to meet each other without being intimidating. We feel it was a success and helped integrate more of the kids together,” says Cheri Auletta, Prince of Peace mom and one of the party one coordinators.

The second party was held at Edison’s Dallas, a 15,000-square-foot venue east of downtown Dallas. The theme, as in previous years, was Winter Wonderland and included heavy appetizers, snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, a wintry photography set and, of course, a DJ. Each participant was handed an individually wrapped snowflake cookie as they were picked up by parents.

The final party took place last month at Group Dynamix, an athletic venue where the kids can play glow-in-the-dark dodge ball and bow tag, fly down a zip-line or climb a coconut tree.

“A lot of the things available at this venue encourage team building and will help solidify the relationships that they will carry on to high school,” says Christy Reed, St. Rita mom and one of the party three coordinators.

Junior Assembly isn’t all fun and games. Most private schools require students to do some level of community service each year, so the board decided to put a charitable spin on the last two parties. Participants were asked to bring canned foods or other dry goods to the Winter Wonderland Party. A total of 483 pounds of food was donated which helped to provide access to 403 meals for the North Texas Food Bank. The eighth-graders were also asked to bring gently used athletic shoes and new socks to the Group Dynamix party, which will be donated to underprivileged kids in Nicaragua and Mexico.

“We want to help remind our kids that no matter where they are in life, high school, work, in transition, or wherever, that there is always an opportunity to help others no matter what they’re doing. We can all have a big impact on someone else,” DePompei says.

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