#parent | #kids | 250 Backpacks Given Out In Dixwell

Melissa Rodriguez helped her daughter, Ava, pick out a new backpack for her first day of 5th grade.

The mother-daughter duo weren’t at a school supply store—but instead at a Dixwell back to school drive, where they joined other families struggling to navigate precarious finances and uncertainty around the coming school year amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The event took place Saturday at the Dixwell police substation at 26 Charles St. Roughly 200 people turned out for the event, which included free food, Covid-19 testing, masks, clothes, and school supplies.

It came less than a week before the state is slated to decide on whether or not New Haven Public Schools will start the school year entirely remote, as requested by the Board of Education, or whether it will have to start with a hybrid remote-and-in-person model of learning.

Rodriguez is a mother of six children. She works as a crossing guard at Wexler-Grant School, and she said her kids are ready to go back to school—and she’s ready to go back to work.

“The free bookbags are helping us especially because the unemployment went down from $700 to $100,” she said, referring to the recent end to a federal boost to unemployment benefits. “I just can’t afford school supplies right now. We’re struggling everyday.”

The Dixwell Community Management Team, National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Varick Memorial Church, Upon This Rock Ministries, Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade Committee, ConnCAT, and the New Haven and Yale police departments spent weeks collecting contributions to give out at the event. Organizers said they received donations from city residents, staff members of the city’s Finance Department, and spontaneous Cash App offerings to buy additional supplies.Roughly 250 backpacks were given away at the event.

Each backpack included essential school supplies and 2 masks. Masks for CT provided a total of 500 children’s masks and 1’500 adult masks.

School supplies weren’t the only necessity being addressed at the donation drive.

Middle school student Jazmyn Richardson (pictured at the top of this article) said she is a student who needs to learn in a traditional classroom atmosphere.

“I’m one of those children that can’t really learn on a laptop because I need to be taught in person. I need somebody to actually help me,” Richardson said. “The supplies are all for free so you’re helping the kids and the parents out right here. For the pandemic that we’re going through right now, people are losing their jobs. This is helping the parents out with the bookbags so that they don’t have to go to the store to buy it.”

Richardson’s cousin, Sifa Kiza, who is attending Hillhouse High School this year, has preferred working online.

“For me, I like it because I don’t really like associating with certain people that much. I’m an independent person and I’m really quiet. I don’t really like talking to a lot of people. If we go back, I’m willing to go back, but is it really safe to go back?” Kiza asks.

“I feel like it’s not that safe. The coronavirus isn’t even over yet so I feel like we should just do it online. If we go, my mom isn’t letting me go anyways.”

Homeschool Or Back To School?

Some parents, like Donna Caesar, have decided against letting their loved ones attend school in person. Kasli and Kaylei Caesar (pictured), three and five years old, would have been attending school in Fair Haven this year.

“It’s not safe enough yet so they’re going to be homeschooled. My son and I will be helping to homeschool them,” Caesar said.

Johnita Jackson and her son, James Murry, will also be staying home for remote learning.

“I just recently found out that he has asthma and he just scared me the other day. He had a little problem where he couldn’t breathe,” said Jackson. “With school starting back up, little kids don’t really know how to cover up their mouth when they sneeze and cough. You can’t watch everybody and that makes me nervous so that’s why I signed up for remote learning. Just to be on the safe side.”

Still, Murry had picked out an Avengers themed backpack because funds are tight.

“Events like today help because I’m currently not working right now. I haven’t received unemployment so this definitely works out,” Jackson said. “I’m surviving by working for DoorDash and I have Care Coordinators who help me out with gift cards for groceries. They’ll usually contact me by phone once a week for events like these to try and help me out.”

Kanye Armour (pictured), who attends Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, has been like a second parent to his three younger siblings, including a 12-year old, a 1-year old, and a 5-month-old baby.

“A lot has happened throughout the entire pandemic. It’s been hard for my mom to maintain working at home because I do help out too, but it’s hard for her to watch all of the kids.” Armour said. “She’s also been going back to work which has been a challenge because we need someone to watch us when we’re at home.”

Evelyn Rodeheffer, who is going to be heading into 4th grade at Worthington Hooker School, was candid about not being excited for back to school.

She gave a flat out answer of “No” when asked. However, she did appear to have a big smile and a sparkle in her eye when it came down to getting a backpack of her liking.

Her mother, Valerie Horsley, a professor at Yale for the Department of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology and a Hamden councilwom, said she struggled everyday to manage her students throughout the semester in March because of her daughter’s frustration with online classes.

“It’s hard to get a kid that’s so young to sit in front of the computer and learn. I was trying to do my own work on the computer but it’s hard. I can’t even really think about it [the fall] because it’s so stressful, especially for parents that need to work,” said Horsley.

Delana Lawrence, who attended the event with her three children, said school is only effective for the parents that can’t afford to stay home and need babysitters for their kids. However, Lawrence has been working as a patient care associate at Yale New Haven Hospital but supports online learning.

“I think remote learning is in the best interest of everyone right now, definitely because they don’t have the perfect plan for how the kids are going to be sanitary and safe,” she said. “Kids being at home isn’t good for the parents that don’t have the time so actually sit and work with their kids, but I think it’s in their best interest. I feel as though that they should probably do Zoom with the kids so that they can actually see the teacher and the teacher can see them doing their assignments,” said Lawrence.

Approximately 50 backpacks remain at the substation for pick up, and donations will continue to be accepted. Contact Nina Silva at Neenahdawn@gmail.com or Steve Winter at (203)-903-434 for more information.

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