In our latest Education Lab IQ feature, we answer this reader question: “How can we support kids in need as they go back to school, especially those who don’t have books at home to practice reading, and whose most nutritious meal comes from school?”
For many parents, the start of school signals the time to pull out their checkbooks to pay fees for lockers and gym clothes and students IDs — you get the picture.
But Education Lab reader Angie Myers wondered about the families who barely can afford the basics at home. And as a mother of one, Myers worried about parents struggling to afford new shoes and clothes and backpacks — for multiple children — “on top of normal kids expenses.”
That prompted Myers to ask, “How can we support kids in need as they go back to school — especially those who don’t have books at home to practice reading, and whose most nutritious meal comes from school?”
As part of the back-to-school season, Education Lab asked readers what’s on their minds this time of year. We already answered a couple of questions — and hope to get to more over the next few weeks. Want to add to our list? Submit your own question here.
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In the meantime, here’s what we found for Myers:
The book-giving season essentially ends when classes resume and schools reopen their libraries. Nonprofit organizations like Page Ahead and the King County Library System donate the bulk of their free literature to kids over summer break.
Still, it’s never to early to help.
At Page Ahead, executive director Susan Dibble encouraged charity-minded readers to host virtual or in-person book drives in advance of summer. Volunteers also can sign up now to read books at schools throughout the year, or reserve time on the last day of school to help with dozens of book fairs that send first- through third-graders home with 12 books to read over summer.
Last year, Page Ahead provided more than 190,000 books to nearly 22,000 kids.
At King County libraries, patrons can donate books that branches sell to pay for summer programs. The system’s foundation also accepts direct donations to help purchase books — in English and Spanish — that libraries give away to children at free meal sites over the summer.
Whether in affluent or low-income parts of King County, individual districts suggest residents donate to their respective school foundations.
The foundations in the Highline, Issaquah and Lake Washington school districts each operate food programs that often work with local food banks and other nonprofits to send students from low-income families home with backpacks full of kid-friendly food that they can eat over the weekend.
In Highline schools, where more than two-thirds of students come from low-income households, the foundation operates a backpack program in seven schools but may add two more campuses this month. And so far this school year, the Highline Schools Foundation provided 1,250 students with backpacks full of food.
Other districts that enroll a high number of low-income students — including Auburn, Kent and Renton — do not have a centralized system for charitable donations. But individual schools often partner with nonprofit groups, like Communities in Schools, that work directly with families in need to connect them with food-assistance programs. Local Rotary clubs and food banks also have their own backpack programs to help students in the highest-needs schools in Auburn and Renton.
Across the county, United Way estimates nearly one in five local kids don’t have enough to eat. That organization works with 85 schools to improve access to meals and provides a school breakfast program in high-needs neighborhoods.
United Way also uses donations to pay for free meals for kids at 250 sites during the summer.
And Northwest Harvest, a nonprofit food distributor, recommended contacting the student hunger coordinator at the Seattle Council PTSA to find out about volunteering and donation opportunities at local schools across the city. The organization also strongly encouraged anyone planning to host a food drive for students to first work with a local food bank or agency to avoid collecting unnecessary items.