While the calendar may show it's still the middle of summer, for many children it's time to prepare for the next school year. Schools across Stanislaus County are starting their academic year in the next few weeks — including Turlock Unified, whose first day of school is Aug. 11 — and families are stocking up on school supplies. For some families, however, the financial burden of purchasing the required pencils, notebooks, binders and other supplies a student needs to succeed is out of reach.
That is where Operation Backpack comes in. Each year the Stanislaus County Office of Education coordinates a backpack and school supplies drive for local homeless and at-risk youth.
“Operation Backpack enables us to distribute backpacks to students who wouldn’t have them otherwise,” said Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon. “We invite the community to support the homeless and low-income children and their families by bringing new backpacks filled with school supplies to one of the (drop-off locations)."
According to Operation Backpack event coordinator Kym Barber, the community donated 1,000 backpacks full of supplies in 2015. Those backpacks were divided between 26 school districts in the county, which then distributed them to homeless and at-risk students. Fifty of those backpacks went to students in Turlock.
This year SCOE hopes to serve as many of the 6,500 homeless children living in Stanislaus County as possible.
Homeless children face a wide variety of challenges and long-lasting issues that are profoundly detrimental to their development and ability to learn, ultimately affecting their success in life. According to The National Center on Family Homelessness, homeless children are eight times more likely to be asked to repeat a grade; three times as likely to be placed in special education classes; and twice as likely to score lower on standardized tests. Operation Backpack seeks to provide some sense of normalcy and remove one obstacle from homeless students’ lives. With a new backpack and new school supplies, students start the school year off right.
Those wishing to donate can purchase a new backpack, fill it with school supplies and drop it off at the county office of education, located at 1100 H St. in Modesto, or at the Turlock Unified District office directly by July 28. Grade-specific school supply lists can be found at: www.stancoe.org/scoe/admin/backpack/index.html. Cash donations will also be accepted.