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Two backpack giveaways Saturday prepare Prince George's students for school


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Photo Tauren Dyson. Janet Chambers, seventh grader at Accokeek Academy, sports her new backpack  at one of two events Saturday in Prince George’s County that provided free backpacks and school supplies to local students.

Photo Tauren Dyson. Janet Chambers, seventh grader at Accokeek Academy, sports her new backpack at one of two events Saturday in Prince George’s County that provided free backpacks and school supplies to local students.

Published on: Wednesday, August 14, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

Two backpack giveaways Saturday provided school supplies to disadvantaged Prince George’s County children for the upcoming school year.

One giveaway was held at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, where the “Bright Beginnings for Bright Futures” event gave away about 5,000 backpacks — many filled with school supplies.

“We have students who come in who have absolutely nothing, and even things like composition books and pencils,” said Debra Elkins, a third-grade geography teacher at Imagine Lincoln Charter School in Temple Hills. “They feel like they’re not part of the classroom when they don’t have those kinds of supplies. … This leads to a lot of absences.”

The shame that students develop because they come to class without necessary school supplies grows into apprehension to engage in lessons and isolation from other students, Elkins said.

“They just sometimes fall away by the wayside. … Homework doesn’t get done, and class work doesn’t always get done because they don’t have the necessary tools,” she said. “I had a student who refused to sit with the rest of the class. … She definitely felt different and awkward.”

A recent study from the Brookings Institute found that more than 7 percent of Prince George’s County residents live in poverty, which could contribute to the problem of children coming to school in need of supplies.

Another backpack giveaway was sponsored by state Sen. C. Anthony Muse at the Forest Village Shopping Center in Fort Washington. Even in an area known for its high median household incomes, some of its residents were not immune to economic woes.

“A lot of the people who had nice homes and had a high income, they lost their jobs,” said Brandi Calhoun, chief of staff for Muse. “You see people who have never called social services or never needed assistance before they’re finally coming.”

The event targeted children in his 26th legislative district, an area that has an approximately 180,000 residents and encompasses much of South County. Calhoun estimated that more than 300 children came to the outdoor event, despite constant drizzling.

“Giving back to the community has helped my parents with school materials because we’ve been going through a lot,” Amber Burke said. “Not everyone can afford back-to-school materials every year.”

Burke currently attends college in Baltimore but her five siblings are still in school. Her father was laid off from his job, leaving her mother to support the family. An event like the one Saturday has slightly helped in lightening the financial burden from her mother, Burke said.

In addition to offering school supplies, the Fort Washington event also raffled off the chance for five high school students to get jobs at local businesses, gift cards and other services.

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