- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

Somebody please pass a new national law: No school before Labor Day. That selfish shout applies only if your child is not enrolled in a year-round learning institution, which, on a serious note, is where most students ought to be attending classes in the 21st century.

I know I’m “old school,” as the radio station characterizes anyone who qualifies for a “30-and-over club card.”

I remember when you didn’t dare put on your new school clothes until you didn’t dare wear white because it was not fashionable — the day after Labor Day.

In Prince George’s County, where tin trailers pass for classrooms today, the school bells are ringing already. Local college freshmen are sitting in orientation sessions while law-school students have received their first assignments.

Meanwhile, like thousands of other local students and teachers, I am savoring the last weeks of summer before hitting the books. However, we are not exactly sulking in the sun. There will be a whole lot of preparation going on before Sept. 7.

For teachers: Have the books arrived? Is the curriculum copied? Is the roster correct?

For students: Did you get all of your shots? Do you have milk money? Did you buy basic school supplies?

There is no such thing as a free education in new schools. There is no such thing as a free lunch, even for those who qualify. Education doesn’t come cheap, either. The prerequisite cost of a computer alone is enough to set you back several hundred bucks. Internet fees could classify as highway robbery.

Pity the parents with several school-age children. Surely, school shopping on the heels of summer vacations must force many parents to carry brown-bag lunches to work for weeks. Unless they are super-duper money managers or rich, the sooner school starts, the less time parents have to save to buy new school uniforms.

That’s why the local fund-raisers that collect school supplies for area students are providing such an important service. So support these worthy causes any way you can.

Strolling through even the super-saver store aisles can be a sticker shocker. Notebooks, pens, pencils, rulers, crayons, calculators and carry-alls, not to mention clothes, add up quickly. It’s enough to give parents and teachers alike the billfold blues.

Even for my college students, I try to limit the number of books they need because a textbook for one class can cost more than $75. Some principals and teachers, like some I know in the District, spend their own small salaries purchasing basic supplies — such as toilet paper — when mismanagers fall short.

On Saturday, more than 1,000 D.C. public-school students were treated to colorful backpacks full of school supplies, while hundreds received school uniforms for the upcoming school year, courtesy of World Vision, a religious relief and development organization.

“Our goal this year was to provide 200 families with school uniforms for their children,” Clark Jones, executive director of World Vision’s D.C. office, told reporter Denise Barnes of The Washington Times. “Uniforms can be a hardship on families, especially for families with several children. So, we spread the word and collected about $7,000 in a few months.” Give those vital visionary folks an A.

Mark ditto for the folks over at television station WUSA. This year, in partnership with the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, SunTrust Bank and Safeway, WUSA is again sponsoring a super school-supply drive.

Jan Verhage, executive director of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, said, “‘Girl power’ helped make last year’s School Supplies 9 Drive a smashing success, and that’s what we’re hoping for again this year. “When Girl Scouts see an opportunity to help others, we are known to let all the stops out.”

The television station reports that “since the [School Supplies 9 Drive] started in 1997, they have collected enough supplies to help more than 200,000 kids” in 15 local school systems. As a result of the drive last fall, Mrs. Verhage said, a record 29,479 children received new school supplies.

Take special note that contributions to School Supplies 9 Drive that are made in a particular area go to that area’s school system. Commuters and suburban donors might consider driving into the District to ensure that the disproportionate number of disadvantaged students in the city receive their due when they drop off new supplies at local SunTrust branches and Safeway stores.

Truth be told, you don’t need an organized fund-raiser to help area schools. You don’t really need a special time. The need for school supplies, equipment and maintenance exists all year.

Still, few sights are sweeter than little boys and girls dressed in their fancy frocks and toting shiny new book bags and lunch boxes as they head off to class on the first day of school. Yet, I’d much rather see those students grab their rolling backpacks after Labor Day, when I’ve stored my white sandals.

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