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Back to School, Are You Ready?

When I was younger, my dad tried to teach me by telling me, "use the right tool for the job" as I was preparing to use a butter knife as a screwdriver because I was too lazy to go to the garage to get a screwdriver. After fiddling around trying to make the stupid knife work, I gave up and went to get the screwdriver. Lesson learned, having the right tools for the job makes work go a lot smoother and easier.

After a turbulent year and a half, many students are preparing to return to in-person classes in the Fall. For most parents and students, starting the school year right means getting the right school supplies they need including technology products, new clothes, and this year, probably hand sanitizer and masks.

A Deloitte study estimates that families with children in K-12 will spend an average of about $850 per child on school items, 7 percent more than last year. If you add the costs of extracurricular activities, the average goes up to $1,100 to $1,800. Even at the low end, $1,000 out of pocket for any family is quite an expense, and for families living at the poverty line or below, it is really significant.

Nearly 15 million students in the United States live in poverty. That is about 1 in 5 children whose family's income is less than $25,750 annually. For these families, many with multiple children in K-12 grade school, the annual costs for school supplies can easily add up to $3000 or more. On top of that, add another $700 for access to broadband services. Such costs threaten to overwhelm many families with lower incomes, often forcing them into the difficult decision between paying rent or getting their children the necessary school supplies.

Families that cannot afford buying the necessary school supplies for their children often results in the child not being able to complete their assignments, not being prepared, and unable to participate in class. They often withdraw and feel isolated. Over time, the effects are compounded further widening the gap in student achievement.

This was laid to bare during the pandemic as schools went to remote learning. A June 2020 study by Common Sense found that over 15 million students, or 30% of all public school students, lived in households without either an internet connection or a device adequate for distance learning, or both. It made the achievement gap a more serious problem for students who lacked access. No longer was this lack of access to the internet or a suitable computing device just about not being able to get homework completed, but rather, students without a device or broadband access were literally cut off from their education almost entirely.

Why does this matter? Research has long demonstrated that access to quality education can help break the cycles of poverty, and a major part of this is ensuring all students have access to the resources and tools they need to be successful. Back-to-school backpack drives are helpful in providing some of the resources and helping students start their school year on the right foot, but they alone are not the answer. It is equally important to ensure students have the right supplies and tools not just at the beginning, but throughout the year, and every school year.

One way to get involved throughout the year is to volunteer or start a recurring donation to local, community-based Education and Youth Development nonprofits. Many of these nonprofit organizations offer students from under-served communities supplemental education, resources and supplies, tutors and mentors, and an array of learning experiences. They are an excellent way for you to get involved, give back, and leverage your talents, education, and experience in helping children grow and develop .

After a year of remote learning and social distancing, I think we can all agree that, as kids head back to school this year, they deserve not only to just go back, but to thrive, catch up, and have their best school year yet. To do that, it will take some extra adjusting, patience, support, and of course, making sure they have all the right resources and back to school essentials ready to go.

(to be continued)

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