Six months ago, staff at Grace Smith House in Poughkeepsie reached out to the Wappingers Congress of Teachers, asking for help to get a boy’s bike. When union leaders dropped off the bike, they asked how else they could help the students sheltering there in safety from domestic violence.
The answer: those kids would need personal care items and back-to-school supplies at the start of the next school year.
In August, 60 stacked backpacks were delivered to students. The backpacks for the Wappingers area students, along with backpacks sent to others in an 18-county area of New York, were made available as a result of a joint effort between NYSUT and listeners of Northeast public radio station WAMC. The two organizations purchased nearly 1,100 backpacks filled with school supplies — taken from a typical list an elementary teacher sends home to parents — along with some personal care kits.
In Albany, Laura Franz, president of the Albany Public School Teachers Association, reported that the share of donated backpacks provided to this urban, high-needs district were handed out to new teachers. They, in turn, were able to give them to students who showed up empty-handed at school, or without enough supplies.
“We’re very grateful,” said Franz. “This helps new teachers who don’t know what they’re going to find.”
Secretary Treasurer Abraham and President Andy Pallotta greet Albany students with new backpacks for back-to-school. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
Backpacks were happily received by children in downtown Albany this past weekend as part of a community outreach where the students were also treated to free haircuts, edge-ups and fades at the local barber shop, Bricks. Hamburgers and hot dogs were served, along with mixtures of all-natural, healthy juice blends instead of soda. NYSUT President Andy Pallotta and Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham joined Albany community leaders to meet students and share time with families.
“Many families across New York struggle with providing basic needs, especially around back-to-school time when the costs of getting children outfitted for the new year can cost hundreds of dollars per student,” said Abraham, as local volunteers worked the barbeque grill and greeted families and passers-by. “By engaging with local communities and assisting these families, we are helping children start the year with a backpack, new materials, a fresh haircut and a sense of pride and confidence.”
“As a child attending public school in Brooklyn, getting a fresh haircut and new school supplies was an annual rite of passage for me,” Pallotta said. “NYSUT is proud to join with the Albany community to ensure that all students have access to these things as the new school year begins.”
While the backpacks certainly help students with practical goods and a self- esteem boost — they also help educators. Pallotta reminds people often that teachers spend about $500 a year out of their own pocket for classroom supplies and to help students.
“Tackling rising poverty in New York is one of our NYSUT social justice causes,” said Abraham. “In this manner, students and their families are able to have positive experiences with our educators prior to the start of the school year. These type of events let students and their families know that our union and our members care about them.”
When the Wappingers Congress of Teachers brought the backpacks to students at Grace Smith House, they were taking action on their mission of deepening community outreach.
The WTC has taken part in NYSUT’s Local Action Project, and it was there they learned to develop pillars of what their union stands for. One of those pillars is community outreach, said Pasquale Delli Carpini, president (pictured above, second from right).
“We gave these kids the opportunity to begin school in September with the tools they need to begin the school year like every other student,” said Delli Carpini. “It’s an indescribable feeling, to know you’re beginning to make a difference in someone’s life.”
The local president and longtime Italian teacher said he comes from a little town called Gallo Matese in southern Italy, in the province of Caserta. “We lived off the land. I know what poverty is like,” he said. At age 12, he came to America. “This country has given me a lot. We have the opportunity to give back.”