Back to School Preparation: More Families Need Help Arming Students

Lesley Spicer of District Heights spends much of her time wrestling with ways to achieve a workable daily budget for her brood of six children.

While her teenage boys attended a Teen Summit in Capitol Heights hosted by United Communities Against Poverty (UCAP), the single mother stumbled upon clothing and shoes distributed outside at UCAPs community fair Aug. 5.

She also registered to take home a book bag full of school supplies estimating that she’d saved $300 — money needed for other household expenses.

“This came right on time. School shopping for shoes for my two boys [at District Heights Elementary] is done,” Spicer said. “To be able to come here and get something means less out of my pocket. Every little bit helps. It is truly a blessing.”

As Spicer and thousands of other D.C. area residents prepare for the yearly back to school routine, assistance for these families comes from schools, nonprofit organizations and private businesses who continue to collect and donate basic items to help defray the costs of those less fortunate.

Donated items include the basics: book bags filled with pencils, notebook paper and other essentials estimated at $40 apiece. The cost increases as children enter middle and high school.

The state of Maryland requires children to be immunized before the 2017-18 school year begins Sept. 6. Fortunately, several clinics, health care providers and pharmacies o er free checkups and health screenings.

Shoppers can currently take advantage of the annual “Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week” where apparel and footwear $100 or less per item are exempt from the state’s 6 percent sales tax. It ends Saturday, Aug. 19.

To boost a child’s appearance, the first 350 children ages 5 to 12 whose parents registered for a community event Friday, Aug. 18 at Marlow Heights Community Center will receive free haircuts and hairstyling. The center stands in an underserved community in Prince George’s County whose financially strapped residents can take advantage of a program known as the Transforming Neighborhood Initiative.

DC Public Schools doesn’t organize school or community donation events, said Janae Hinson, spokeswoman for the school system. However, people can go online at and donate art supplies, school uniforms, computers and printers.

“Small things like having a good, sturdy pair of shoes, a clean polo shirt and even a nice haircut help improve [a student’s] self-esteem,” said Steve Majors, spokesman for the nonprofit advocacy group, Communities In Schools. “Over time, parents, members of the community and teachers have realized we have to do more. Just providing the basics and telling them what they need isn’t enough.”

The Arlington-based organization has staff and volunteers in 2,300 schools in 25 states that partner with other groups to o er school uniforms, mentoring and tutoring programs. The group doesn’t have partnerships with schools in Maryland but it does with seven schools in the District.

For the past three years, Communities In School collaborated with Huntington National Bank headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, on a Backpack Index, an annual survey to assess school supplies, clubs, sports and other expenses.

According to the survey conducted in eight states, expenses in the last decade have increased by 88 percent for elementary students, 81 percent for middle school students and 68 percent for high school students.

The figures on what parents can expect to spend per child this school year are:

• $662 for those in elementary school — a 1 percent increase from last school year;

• $1,000 for middle schoolers — a 5 percent increase; and

• $1,489 for high schoolers — about $9 less or a 1 percent decrease.

The figures don’t include school uniforms and items teachers will spend and ask parents to help provide such as copy paper, facial tissues and hand sanitizer.

Crystal Johnson’s expenses will inevitably rise once she leaves Shephard’s Cove, a shelter for women and children in Capitol Heights.

As of Aug. 9, Johnson waited for the local apartment that she’ll soon call home to pass inspection.

According to Prince George’s school boundaries based on her

new address, Johnson’s 11-year-old daughter would start sixth grade at Walker Mill Middle School in Capitol Heights. Her daughter finished the previous school year at Glenridge Elementary in Landover Hills that houses students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

“There’s been so much going on but I have received a lot of help,” said Johnson, who’s been living on disability for more than 10 years. “The shelter will help with school supplies and other stuff. Just getting my daughter off to a good start in school and getting settled again is my main [priority].”

William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail,

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