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Every Monday Matters: Move to the head of the class -- create a back-to-school backpack

It's that time of the year ... summer vacations are drawing to an end, educators are starting to prepare their classrooms and kids are going shopping for their first-day-of-school outfits and school supplies.

Well, at least a portion of the kids are able to buy a new outfit and school supplies. Unfortunately, nearly 40 percent of them are not buying anything. And, though this might seem trivial to many, it is not to these children — not at all. And, fortunately for hundreds of elementary school students in Nashville, Tenn., it was not trivial to their teacher, either.

Pammy Baker has been a third-grade teacher in a low-income neighborhood for eight years. And, for eight years, she has noticed that the majority of her students come to school without the proper school supplies.

"At first, I was astonished that kids could come to school without pencils, pens, notepads or even backpacks," Pammy said. "As a parent myself, I just couldn't understand how their parents could send their kids off to jump on the school bus knowing that they were not prepared for learning."

Pammy grew up in a middle- to upper-class neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where having proper school supplies was never an issue. But Pammy's husband was transferred by his job to Nashville, which exposed Pammy to a whole new way of life.

"Besides being shocked, it also made me grateful," she said. "I never had to worry about school supplies."

Pammy pulled together a group of friends and asked if they would make a donation toward her goal of making sure all of her students were prepared on the first day of school.

"It's something I started four years ago, but I wish I had done it from year one," Pammy said. "The first year I did it, my friends and family donated over $500. This allowed me to go buy a ton of the basics — paper, pens, crayons, folders, backpacks, colored pencils and more. It was like Christmas for my students."

Pammy allowed each student to select one item that he or she needed. Once everyone picked a first item, she then repeated the process until every student got five items.

"It was a special day and a really gratifying way to start the year off," she said.

Now in the fourth year of this program, Pammy recently raised $1,200. Not only will she be able to buy the basics, but she is also going to purchase art supplies. Like more than 70 percent of schools in the U.S., Pammy's school no longer provides the arts.

"I never realized how much of an impact this was going to have on my students," she said. "I was just trying to help in any way I could. It's pretty great and my kids are always excited about starting the new school year because they know how much we support them."

TAKE ACTION TODAY

1. Select a family in your neighborhood or workplace that is in financial need and has school-age children. Or call a local elementary school, soup kitchen or church to find a family.

2. Get your friends, co-workers, and family members involved so you can buy in bulk. It's more cost-effective, and more kids can benefit.

3. Go to the Web site of the child's school to see if a list of supplies for each grade level is posted. Otherwise, just use common sense and buy the basics. And don't be afraid to buy some fun items, too.

4. Deliver the backpacks with a smile.

Children's performance in school and their self-esteem can affect their entire lives, as well as the community in which they grow up. Help make going back to school a positive experience by purchasing and stocking a backpack for a child. Not only are you eliminating a challenge for a low-income family, you are enabling a young student to start the school year on a more level playing field.

Visit EveryMondayMatters.com to buy the book, get involved, book a speaking engagement/ event and share your stories about making a difference in the world. You matter.

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