Protecting a Child’s Right to go Back to School
Children who are experiencing homelessness can often find Back to School preparation cumbersome amidst their family’s pressing need to secure permanent housing and sustainable resources. The academic success and college readiness movement, highly promoted in schools that serve low-income children, has led to an increase in the cost of school preparation materials and demands on parents who already have a high stress index.
Each year, Playtime responds to the urgent need of supporting our families’ Back to School efforts by rallying donors to provide brand new backpacks, school supplies, and required uniforms. Generous donors spring into action by providing monetary gifts and hosting Back to School drives within their communities and workplaces. This year, our largest supporters included District Church, providing 180 backpacks and Living Social, providing 270 backpacks and brand new uniforms for 53 children. In addition to these large donors, a host of smaller donors pitched in and brought our total backpack collection to 505, a victory that will also allow us to reach children in the overflow shelter motels!
As our children headed off to school with their beautiful, brand new backpacks, we soon learned that our donation efforts were countered by rigid and expensive uniform mandates. During the first week of school, we were faced with responding to calls from frantic children and their parents who were out-of-compliance with the school’s strict uniform policies. Sitting in detention for wearing polka dot socks, shirts without school emblems, and the wrong color belt were the culprit of our children’s anxieties. School uniforms were once seen as a the great equalizer, a cost-effective way to prevent gang color insignia and a sure way to focus children on their studies and not their clothing. Schools requiring pricey, elaborate uniforms counters the intended purpose of mandated uniform policies. As concerned members of the community, as youth service advocates and as parents, we must ask the local charter and public school system to take a long hard look at their uniform policies and ask themselves: are they a part of the problem or a part of the solution? Here’s how you can get involved in advocacy efforts.
Petula Dvorak’s column in the Washington Post helped shed light on our children’s experiences and again, our generous community responded, with gifts large and small. Thank you for your help ensuring the children we serve have the clothing they need to be admitted to school, a right that we must vigorously protect.
Thank you to our community of support for helping our children enter their classrooms with their heads held high!
By Renetta Davis