In recent years local organizers have stepped up to make sure Rochester students are ready for school. Reminiscent of the Black Panthers free breakfast program, some have gathered school supplies and provided access to services in an effort to alleviate the strain on families caused by the rising costs of the back to school season.
“The price of supplies and extracurricular activities increased by 88 percent for elementary school students, 81 percent for middle school students and 68 percent for high school students.” says the latest Huntington Backpack Index, an annual survey on school attendance costs.
The prices, which have increased steadily over the past decade, have become an added burden on Rochester’s black families. With 82% identifying as single parent households according to the latest ACT Rochester survey, purchasing supplies on one income can be difficult.
That is where organizers like Khadija Yawn come in.
“Anyone can look at someone and think they make $30 thousand a year, they should be fine. But they’d be a single parent of five. If you need help you’re gonna come out and get it,” said Yawn who has organized the Total Package Back to School event for five years.
Yawn, who is an event promoter in Rochester has seen families in the district struggle and felt compelled to give back to as many people as possible. That is why at these events, families are not obligated to show additional proof of income. For Yawn, the event is a way to bring people together.
“The parents are relieved you know. Some of our neighborhoods are impoverished…but it isn’t just about that. Parents work hard so even if there isn’t an immediate need, you can come and reward yourself for working hard,” said Yawn who added every parent just wants to see their kids smile.
Yawn’s events have begun to include access to physicals, eye exams and uniforms. Other drives have focused on making sure kids have appropriate shoes like Zaire Down’s Sneaker Drive which asks for gently used sneakers so children can have cool shoes and fit in when school starts. There are also coat drives since many families can’t afford coats for rapidly-growing children. Brothers & Sisters, a salon and barbershop, has been providing haircuts, supplies and even a meal. All are bridging the gap between what the schools require and what families can provide.
But, even the Rochester City School District is taking action. Board members and staff within the district were asked this past summer to donate to their preferred school in an initiative called Start Strong. Items collected are then distributed to kids and classes as needed.
“It could be folks who register the district last minute and didn’t get the memo about school supplies or maybe there are money issues it is hard to afford some of the supplies, maybe classrooms run through things more quickly than you think.” said Dr. Elizabeth Hallmark, Board member to the Rochester City School District.
Also citing a disconnect between parents and the district, Hallmark feels that an increase in communication could make parents feel more comfortable to reach out to the schools for help.
“There certainly some families that don’t feel very connected to the district. We’re looking for ways to engage…Do you do it through the child, through parent groups, churches? We’re always talking about how to do better but we appreciate community groups to help us with this. It needs to happen with both directions.” Said Hallmark.
But, while the District is looking for ways to build connections, the community is using its own to crowdsource city residents needs. Taking to heart the idea that it takes a village, the organizers are making it possible for students in Rochester to go to school with not only backpacks but also, confidence. A must-have item for anyone to achieve success.