For many students living in low-income communities across the National Capital Area, preparing for school extends beyond studying for academic classes. As children of working-class families scramble to gather supplies to participate in their classes, many fall short and come to school without essentials like pencils and notepads. Without supplies readily available, academic performance quickly drops and students begin to feel undervalued, insecure and incapable of meeting the challenges of education.
To help provide for the needs of our area’s most vulnerable students, United Way –of the National Capital Area worked with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to assemble and distribute 1,200 backpacks to students at United Way NCA’s Community School Walt Whitman Middle School and our nonprofit partner FACETS. With the AWS donation of supplies and the massive mobility of 600 volunteers, the AWS team assembled backpacks with pencils, pens, composition notebooks, erasers and hand-written notes filled with words of encouragement. The backpacks will provide at-risk middle school students at Whitman the much-needed resources to thrive.
“We have many students obviously when they’re coming from poverty, who are homeless or their parents are working many jobs to make ends meet,” shares Whitman Middle School principal Craig Herring. “Nothing brightens our days more than to have them pick out their own color backpack, to open it up and see the supplies inside so that when they go to class that day, they don’t look any different than the kid next to them.”
Fear of not fitting in is a tremendous issue when it comes to keeping students in the classroom. In suiting up 1,000 students at Whitman with backpacks and supplies, United Way NCA and AWS are taking a huge step forward in removing barriers that prevent learning at a time when students want most to blend in with their peers. Beyond the social anxieties of not having enough, the backpacks empower the students with a powerful message: they are supported and valued by their community.
The backpacks for Whitman are just one example of how United Way NCA Community Schools as a whole are engaging over 12,000 Title I area middle school students through some of the toughest challenges they face in the classroom. Collaborating with Amazon Web Services just goes to show the depth of impact we can sustain when we choose to #LiveUnited.