Help make back-to-school season a positive experience for children in financially struggling families with a donation to The Seattle Times editorial board's school-supply drive

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Ballard High is definitely not a high-poverty school. Only 11 percent of the students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch. An impressive 91 percent graduate on time, and almost every grad enrolls in college directly after high school.

But those statistics do not reveal all the facts at Ballard or any other public school in Seattle. Needy kids and homeless students can be found in nearly every building. Those students do their best to fit in and not draw attention to the things their families can’t afford, explains language-arts and special-education teacher Melissa Baron.

“Social pressure really changes as kids enter middle and high school, in a way that strains parents financially,” said Baron, who has been teaching for six years.

The Seattle Times editorial board’s annual school-supply drive aims to support needy students wherever they go to school across King and Snohomish counties, and counteract some of that social pressure. Generous readers help three organizations get students ready for school: Hopelink, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness and the YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish. They use the donations to buy backpacks and school supplies for more than 5,000 students each fall.

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In some ways, being needy at a school like Ballard High is more difficult than at a poorer and less economically diverse high school.

Baron says teachers and administrators at Ballard High are aware some of their students come from families that can’t afford things like computers and internet access at home, and school supplies in their backpacks. Although they do their best to keep inexpensive supplies on hand, students must bravely speak up when they don’t have the tools to complete an assignment, such as internet access, a video camera or presentation software.

Baron acknowledges school-supply lists from teachers are too long. “By high school, every teacher wants a particular organization system, planners, dividers, etc.,” she said. The official requirements can be intense, and are magnified by the social pressures to have the right water bottle or even cellphone.

Those social pressures may not seem significant to adults, but “otherness” can be a real challenge for Baron’s students.

“I don’t think teens have honest conversations with their peers about socioeconomics,” she said. “Kids make assumptions. It can be isolating to feel outside of that.”

Please help a high school student fit in this year by making a donation to the school-supply drive.