Clayton County Schools police Chief Clarence E. Cox III unloads packets of paper into stacks inside the cafeteria at Charles Drew High School Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
RIVERDALE — More than 50,000 students return to classes in Clayton County Thursday and not all of them will come equipped with the tools they need to succeed.
But several organizations came together this week to ensure that several thousand kids will enter classrooms armed with paper, pens and pencils, and folders. Hundreds of elementary-age students will carry those supplies in new donated book bags.
Clayton County Schools Superintendent Luvenia Jackson was on hand Wednesday morning at Charles Drew High School as a tractor-trailer truck from Walmart delivered $14,000 in school supplies.
“This means all students will get a great start with back to school supplies,” she said. “This is a tremendous joy and a wonderful partnership.”
For the past seven years, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Psi Alpha Omega Chapter donated back to school supplies to Clayton County students. Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley is a sorority member and heads up the donations made through fees paid by probationers serving misdemeanor community service.
Where Jackson sees the potential for increased productivity by students, Mosley has a longer-term objective.
“Our goal is to keep kids in school and out of our court system,” she said. “We want to foster an environment of learning.”
Clayton County Accountability Courts donated thousands of dollars in school supplies and was represented Wednesday by Coordinator Deborah Boddie and DUI Court Case Manager Sacha Green.
The Psi Alpha Omega Chapter donated 150 book bags. President Paula Baker said the contribution reflects the national platform of AKA to donate 1 million book bags to students.
“We were already doing this and already have parents and teachers as members so this gives us a jump on our national platform,” she said.
Baker is an English, language arts and social studies curriculum specialist so she experiences firsthand what it means to students to have the supplies they need to learn.
“It makes a big difference when students are able to come into school and have their own supplies,” she said. “So they don’t feel different or isolated and can focus on their studying and what the teacher is trying to teach them.”
In a county where every child is eligible for free school meals, having paper and pencils is sometimes a luxury that parents cannot afford. Chanikki Brown teaches 12th grade at Drew.
“It’s very important for these students to have supplies available,” she said. “Our students come from such diverse backgrounds and may not have supplies or the resources to even buy paper right away. I’ve heard students say they have to wait for their parents to get paid and it could be a month or so.”
This year, classes start on a Thursday. Schools spokeswoman Vicki Constantinides said it is important that students start the year that day and not wait until Monday.
“Parents think because we’re starting on Thursday that we won’t be doing anything for two days but that’s not the case,” she said. “Teaching does take place from the first day.”
Also new this year is the extension of bus routes. Typically, kids who live 1.5 miles or more from their schools are eligible for bus service but this year, the distance has been shortened to a minimum of a mile for elementary school students.
“Transportation has been an issue for some of our parents so this should help,” said Constantinides. “It applies only to elementary school students.”
Ahead of Thursday’s opening, there will be an event Saturday at Drew High School from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Constantinides said about 40 vendors are expected. All Clayton County students and their families are welcome to participate in free health screenings and get information on community services and public safety.
Back to school supplies will also be given away.
“We want to be sure every student will be ready for the first day of school,” she said.