What our kids need: School supplies

Whitney Houston sang, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”

If those lyrics are true, then our future might be in jeopardy.

Consider the new normal in our school system. First, there is a lack of school supplies. What?

I’m old enough to remember when most, if not all school supplies were provided for students. Not so today. Today, parents are given long lists of necessary items to buy: pencils, crayons, chalk, marking pens, glue, scissors, even writing paper. The lists are getting longer and can be expensive. More and more families can’t afford it.

“The No. 1 thing we need right now,” says Erika Parmelee, family liaison for Communities In Schools of Renton, “are school supplies.”

Second, more and more children from middle-class families are forced onto the free and reduced lunch schedule.

“These families don’t know what to do or where to go,” Parmelee says. “They feel lost.”

We’ve heard this from other agencies like the Salvation Army, which has seen a big increase in the number of middle-class people coming into the food bank.

Last year, for example, the Renton Rotary Salvation Army Food Bank provided weekend backpacks for 350 children in the Renton School District. According to Captain Chris Aird, they could easily add 50-100 more children if they just had the money.

And the weird thing is that many of these families might be living right next door to you.

“They might live in a nice house,” Parmelee says. “But you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

Many families have been forced to move in with relatives. Sometimes entire families are living in one room. Perhaps the kids are sleeping on couches or the floor. There’s no privacy and no place to study. The stress often forces them to move over and over again.

And that’s the third problem.

“A big problem in our school district,” Parmelee tells me, “is that families have to move so often. This can be very disruptive for the children. They’re taken out of the classroom and away from their friends.”

Fortunately, there is the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, a federal law that attempts to ensure educational stability for homeless children. Per the law, schools must provide transportation if the child wants to continue to attend their school of origin. This helps provides stability, but transportation is expensive.

The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This would include all of the above, plus the many families forced to live in cars.

“I worked with one family living in their car,” says Parmelee, “who would save enough money every week or so to be able to pay for a night in a motel so they could have a shower, a bed, and do their laundry.”

Can you imagine living for weeks on end in a car? I can’t. Now consider how hard it would be for a child. They can’t invite friends over. They don’t have a place to study. They are limited to a finite amount of personal belongings and clothes.

About 70 percent of those served by the Renton Kiwanis Clothes Bank are children, according to board member Pat Auten. And the most sought-after items are new underwear and socks. New underwear and socks – those things my mother used to stuff into my Christmas stocking as a secondary gift are now a luxury item.

Whitney Houston was right. Our future depends on raising healthy, productive children. So can’t we make sure they have the tools they need? And for heaven’s sake – let’s make sure they have clean underwear and socks.

If you want to help kids be successful in school, please consider supporting one or more of the agencies listed here:

Communities In Schools of Renton

1055 S. Grady Way, Renton, WA 98057


Salvation Army Renton Rotary Food Bank

206 S. Tobin St., Renton, WA 98057


Renton Kiwanis Clothes Bank

1025 S. Third St., No. B, Renton, WA 98057


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