ARLINGTON — Hundreds of families again descended upon Presidents Elementary to receive free backpacks filled with school supplies in time for the start of the new school year during the fourth annual Back2School Rally for Arlington, Lakewood and Darrington K-12 students on Sunday, Aug. 18.
“Today is all about the needs of the community, and about caring people coming together to meet those needs,” said Arlington School District Superintendent Dr. Kris McDuffy, who was joined by several teachers and staff members of Presidents Elementary and other Arlington schools. “Arlington is second to none in meeting the community’s needs.”
Event coordinator Brianna Johnson, the children’s pastor at the Arlington Assembly of God Church, thanked the school staff members who were present by introducing Karen Knickerbocker, outreach coordinator for the Sylvan Learning Center of Everett, who presented them with lunches for their first day of school on Sept. 4.
“When parents, teachers and students come together, that’s a recipe for success,” said Knickerbocker, who told the school staff, “Thank you for applying your knowledge and expertise to the challenge of educating children.”
Although the backpacks and school supplies are material goods, Johnson sees them as an investment in the quality of local students’ education, especially given the difficulties that many families face due to ongoing economic troubles.
Kim Stevenson waited in line for her first Back2School Rally this year because she faced the same Catch-22 as a number of other mothers in attendance, of either staying at home to be mom and having her family live off a single income, or going to work and using her paycheck to cover daycare for her kids.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to go back to work next year, so someone else can benefit from this event,” said Stevenson, an artist by trade whose daughters are heading into first, fourth and seventh grade this year. “It’s a relief to get any little bit of help.”
With her oldest child entering first grade this year, fellow stay-at-home mom Jessica Hill is also a first-time Back2School Rally attendee who appreciated the difference that the event made.
“Without this, we’d have to allocate what money we have in other ways,” Hill said. “This lets us buy more school clothes and other necessities. This is nice, not only for the monetary help that it gives to families in need, but also because you get to see the community come out to support each other.”
That need is especially pressing for Heather and Alan Westphal, as they prepare their 3-year-old for preschool and their 9-year-old for fourth grade. Alan is still looking for work in the retail field, having recently moved to the area, while Heather is on Supplemental Security Income, and their younger school-age child is coping with developmental disabilities. At the same time, the Westphals are also raising a newborn and conducting needed renovations on their new home.
“It’s not about the parents,” Heather Westphal said. “It’s about the children, and making sure they feel comfortable going to school.”
“The required school supply lists grow every year,” Alan Westphal said. “We’re being told that fourth-graders need flash drives so they can learn on iPads. That’s more than what I grew up with.”
The school supplies in each backpack were sorted according to each individual student’s grade level and school, then handed out by volunteers at color-coded tables, with each color covering an alphabetical grouping of last names to distribute everyone in line evenly. The parents had to have their children present to collect their backpacks, and every child got his or her hand stamped to avoid the risk of duplication.