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Back to School Jam Returns Saturday at FPC: Uniforms, Discounts, But No Free Backpacks

| August 1, 2012

They jammed it up two years ago at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Now they’re back. (© FlaglerLive)

Saturday, Aug. 4, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. marks the second Back-To-School Jam at Flagler Palm Coast High School, an opportunity for families to get all the necessary updates about county and city schools during a tax-free school supply sale.

A couple of things have changed from the 2010 jam and its 2011 version in nine different locations. For one, the event lost its big sponsor of 2010, and with it the free backpacks Walmart had offered then. Everything on sale at this year’s Jam will nevertheless be sold at discounted prices. Backpacks, for example, will be sold at just $5 apiece. But families are also burdened with a potentially costly uniform policy being enacted this year. Backpack Gear, EmbroidMe of Daytona Beach, and J. Crew will be provided.

Uniforms (actually, color-appropriate, collared shirts and pants) will be offered at affordable prices while all sorts of school-related information will be available for parents. “Everything is being sold at the best price we can offer,” Sabrina Crosby, the school district’s special events coordinator, said. Every one of the district’s school will have representatives who will speak to parents and students about their upcoming open houses. There’ll also be an opportunity for parents to sign up for the PTO-parent teacher organization.

And the health department will also offer free immunizations, though participants must sign up beforehand (call the health department at 437-7350, extension 2219). You must also bring your child’s shot record. With immunization comes a free bike helmet.

Parents will also have the option to sign up for the district’s online record-keeping system, called Skyward, and go online and to look at their child’s records–their assignments, grades, homework, and even what grades they’re receiving on their assignments (once those assignments roll in). There’ll also be a tech expo with lab setups at various stations so parents can see the technology children have access to in the classroom and experience it themselves.

After-school programs and activities, along with social, medical, and counseling services will be at the jam. If families are eligible for food stamps, they can apply for them. Parents will also be able to sign their child up for the free and reduced price lunch.

For some, the discount rates will still not be enough. To aid those who will still continue to struggle affording new clothes, as they try to meet the standards of the district’s uniform policy, the board and the Flagler County Education Foundation have other means of trying to accommodate those under too much strain.

The first is a uniform shirt drive. Some 50 local businesses have boxes collecting shirts—specifically polos and button-ups. “Teachers get to know pretty quickly which children are in need and the staff gets a feel for which families are struggling,” Crosby said. With a uniform closet added to each school, the items needed by those unable to buy them won’t be coming out of the pockets of teachers and faculty.

A second creative avenue taken to help students get what they need is the Stuff Bus—an acronym for “supplying things you find fundamental.” This project, now in its fourth year, is one of the Education Foundation’s core projects.

The Stuff Bus, a transformed school bus designed by an architect who donated his time and talent to help Flagler and Palm Coast schools, contains shelves and racks that carry toothbrushes, shampoo, soap and other items deemed essential. Local businesses raise money for it. But one agency in particular has gone to extremes of generosity: Suzanne Johnston, the Flagler County tax collector, has raised more than $7,000 so far, and counting, for the the Stuff Bus.

Johnston and her staff have built a reputation in the last three years as the county’s leading fund-raiser for schools and civic projects, such as Feed Flagler at Thanksgiving. Johnston is able to do that by placing small jars at counters where individuals transact business, eliciting coins and dollar donations that quickly add up.

The Education Foundation is a non-profit organization that works in support of the district. (Its office is a couple of doors down from the superintendent’s, a reflection of the important place the foundation plays in the district.)

“We create programs that work to assist District policies,” says Deborah Williams, the foundation’s executive director. The Stuff Bus came about because of the prolonged economic downturn beginning in 2008, and acts “as a school bus supply wagon on wheels.” Williams is grateful, she says, that the Stuff Bus is sustained by the community, not the teachers. Some donors give money while others donate items directly.

Free and reduced price lunch determines who qualifies for a visit to the Stuff Bus. Some 60 percent of students now qualify for the federal lunch subsidies in Flagler.

“We serve about 1,000 children, at about 25 dollars per child, getting them backpacks, shoes, socks, and underwear,” Williams says. Guidance counselors board the bus and can make determinations about who gets more.

The Foundation’s goal isn’t to accommodate the new uniform needs, specifically. “Some kids come to school with their shoes falling off. You need to take care of that before you can worry about the uniform,” Williams says. While the foundation helps with uniforms in a limited capacity, the focus is on essentials. “Not all families can afford even the $5 backpacks so those will also be appearing on the Stuff Bus,” Williams says, noting that a community-wide effort to ensure that students are properly clothed will help.

Reactions to the new policy have abounded, with waves of parental support crashing against waves of opposition, and a recurrent question fir for the times: Why are you making us do this? “Those in favor will continue to feel very strongly and those against it will also continue to feel very strongly,” Crosby says. But, like those famous last words on the cross, it is done.

“It’s just like any change,” Williams says. “At first when absorbing it, it might seem overwhelming. But students can still wear jeans and polos. They don’t have to go and buy from a direct uniform source. It’s just a change and I think it’s very doable. Let’s get behind our decisions and figure this out together.”

The Foundation is also working towards getting vendors for the Jam, along with the District. Some 40 vendors and organizations have signed up. They include the Girl and Boy Scouts of America, Kumon of Palm Coast, the Early Learning Coalition, public and private athletic enterprises like Life Martial Arts and the Flagler County Police Activity League. “We continue to get more each day. But we continue hoping we will receive a few more who will participate,” says Crosby. (call 437-7526 if you’re interested in being a vendor. Talk to Stacy.)

The first “Back to School Jam” took place in 2010. It drew 3,000 people. Back then, Wal-Mart was the major sponsor, donating $10,000. The Wal-Mart manager at the time, Tracey Lloyd, had come to the Palm Coast Wal-Mart Supercenter from a store in Jacksonville where she’d overseen a nearly identical event. Lloyd, a rising star in the Walmart organization, has since left the Palm Coast store. But schools were able to give away free backpacks and other supplies. “It was a really great event that brought families together. So we said, let’s bring it back. We’re expecting a great turnout,” Sabrina Crosby, the school district’s special projects coordinator, said.

Last year, the Board of Education tried something different. There were no backpacks to give away, no $10,000 grant. So the board decided to hold more prosaic information sessions at nine different stations across the county, including the Espanola Center, Bunnell City Hall, and the Government Services Building. Another reason for moving the Jam out to different strategic locations was psychological. Many parents, memories of traumatic principals or teachers or hallway monitors still traumatizing them, still aren’t comfortable entering school buildings. That’s where taking the sessions to different settings came in.

This year, the district decided to change course again, combining both previous years’ approaches.

The key point is that parents can come together and get a lot of information on the resources available to their children when they come to school on Saturday. “This is an event for all families, not just lower income ones,” Crosby said. “We don’t really know what kind of turnout we’ll get and neither do the businesses,” Crosby said. “We’re all just trying to predict and accommodate. If we have a huge turnout, we might sell out. We hope that’s the case.”

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11 Responses for “Back to School Jam Returns Saturday at FPC: Uniforms, Discounts, But No Free Backpacks”

  1. Dorothea says:

    Please everyone take advantage of the free immunizations offered by the Health Department (437-7350 ext. 2219). There is a whooping cough epidemic and the effects can be deadly. That goes for adults also, who need a booster every ten years.

    Give what you can to help the children of our community get what they need for a successful school year. And be careful out there. With so many kids now walking or riding their bikes to school, look both ways before driving over a roadway that crosses a bikepath.

  2. Nancy N. says:

    I’d like to ask Deborah Williams who is taking care of my child and all the special needs children like her when it comes to the new uniform policy? Don’t give me this crap about it’s very doable, and kids can still wear jeans. Anyone who says that obviously doesn’t have a special needs kid with motor skill impairments and other needs like textural aversions that have to be accommodated with special uniform clothing. Who is worrying about kids like mine when they are bragging about how they are taking care of all the disadvantaged kids in the district through all these programs? No, you’re taking care of all the NORMAL kids in the district. Not my kid. I have had to spend hours hunting far and wide on the internet to find clothes that accommodate my daughter’s needs that also meet the uniform code, and it is going to cost me at least $300 to buy her uniform wardrobe as a result. She didn’t own A SINGLE ITEM, not even jeans that the district seems to think in their infinite wisdom “everyone” has, that complied with the policy when I started. Without uniforms, I wouldn’t have had to spend a dime on school clothes this fall because she had plenty to wear already. This uniform policy just took one of the most vulnerable populations in this school district – special needs kids and their families – and placed yet another challenge and hassle in front of us. Like we don’t already have enough to deal with. I don’t have the time or money to deal with this and nobody at the school district has seemed to understand the consequences of this on families like mine since day one of this issue.

  3. tulip says:

    @ Nancy N Did you take this issue to the School Board and tell and show them the situation with your daughter? I would certainly think that under your unusual circumstance, they would bend the rules a bit within reason, such as you dressing her as close to possible to the what the rest of the kids are wearing?

    • Nancy N. says:

      During the initial fight against the uniform policy, all of these issues were presented to the school board. They assured the special needs parents that our children would be accommodated and granted exemptions if they needed them. But here’s the problem – all an accommodation does is put a neon sign on my child that she is different! My child already has a problem fitting in…now they want me to make her look different too? They’re presenting me an awful choice – pay a fortune and go through huge hassle just so that my kid can try to fit in, or avoid the expense and hassle and have my kid have a huge sign on her that says she’s different. Would you as a parent want to have to make that choice? I shouldn’t have to. But the school board has forced this no-win situation on me, so they can implement a policy that there is no evidence will have any benefit for anyone, and that there is abundant evidence practically no one in our community can afford to implement.

      I greatly resent being made to feel like my child’s well-being is being sacrificed at the altar of a political fad.

  4. chrissy says:

    @Nancy I couldn’t agree with u more.
    I’m a mother of 4. With 3 of them in school. We are bearly making the bills and all. If it wasn’t for the uniforms I wouldn’t have to buy much for any of the three. 2 of these are boys and I mean real boys. Ones that can’t keep most shirts clean without stains. The oldest boy is in bigger sizes and I buy clothes 2 to 4 times a year because of how he’s growing. Now with the uniforms just to get 5 shirts each for the 3 kids and bottoms for the oldest boy cause he can’t wear the pants I usually buy him. Has cost me $150 in tops and $350 for just the oldest boys pants. (Had to get a loan to pay for this) With out uniform I could of got 10 pairs of pants for the oldest boy for under 50. And would not have needed anything else. And most likely will have to buy more shirt, probably every other week if not more often. And haven’t even tried to get the other supplies. And now I have to buy some items that if they had been sent home I wouldn’t have to buy again.

  5. thinkforyourself says:

    Nancy can I ask why you would feel like your daughter would have a neon sign on her. There is nothing different about the donated uniform shirts that would have anyone know it was donated. Another question for both Nancy and Chrissy what kind of bottoms did your children wear last year. Please be sure to contact your child’s school aside from Deborah because I know many of the schools have their own clothes closets that they are putting together. Also, Nancy what kind of fabric is your daughter comfortable with. I’ll keep my eye out for you. I’ve been finding some awesome sales. We did our back to school shopping and it was incredibly cheaper for us.

    • Nancy N. says:

      The reference to putting a sign on my child was to if she was granted an exemption from the code and allowed to wear different clothes from everyone else to accommodate her needs, which the school board has seemed to think since day one of this issue is the easy and perfect solution to this for the special needs children. “We’ll just exempt them”, they all shrugged, and dismissed the issue – apparently either not thinking or caring about the whole new set of issues that wearing different clothes from their uniformed peers would raise for those kids.

      Donated uniform clothing almost certainly won’t work for us. My child has motor skill issues and requires completely elastic waists with no button or zip, which are nearly impossible to find in uniform type clothing. She’s also extremely tall and skinny and difficult to fit, on top of that. She has been living in sweat pants (which are specifically not allowed under the uniform code) because that is all I’d been able to find lately that she could manage the waist on. I thought I was going to have no choice but to get an exemption for her for pants but after weeks of hunting online (time I really didn’t have to spend since I’m self-employed and constantly over-extended) I managed to finally find some pants that are elastic and fit the uniform code. But they are 3x the price that I’ve been paying for the sweats she’s been wearing. My daughter is also very textural sensitive due to her autism and lesions on her skin from her scleroderma, so I have to be very careful about the fabric and construction of things she wears so that they aren’t irritating. I’m having to go with mostly more expensive brands of clothing to get her softer fabrics for her shirts – not the cheap, rough mesh with crappy seams that rub. Which means it costs more. And she needs more shirts than most kids because she spills constantly due to her motor skill deficits. She needs extra clothes that can be kept at school as well because of her issues. About $100 of my budget has gone for sweatshirts. She gets cold easily because of her arthritis, and being chilled causes her pain, and it’s important to get her to wear long sleeves whenever possible because of the sun irritating her scleroderma, so she wears sweatshirts way more often than a regular kid – another expense of ours that is more than a regular kid.

      Thanks for the offer thinkforyourself but I’m lucky – I really can’t afford this but between help from family and going into credit card debt I will figure it out. BUT I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO. My kid has perfectly good clothes already. Putting my family through all this crap because the school board wants to play fashion police is crossing a line in what they are supposed to be doing in educating my kid.

      I will say this…the schools are constantly begging for parent support, but after spending all this money on my daughter’s clothes I won’t have a dime extra to give them for classroom supplies and their other needs. Did they really think this through that well?

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Another reason for moving the Jam out to different strategic locations was psychological. Many parents, memories of traumatic principals or teachers or hallway monitors still traumatizing them, still aren’t comfortable entering school buildings. That’s where taking the sessions to different settings came in.”

    Really? Put your big boy pants on and get over it. Why would we cater to such nonsense? We split the sessions up into different settings on the off chance one of the grownups would have flashbacks of hall monitors? Unbelievable!

  7. AnotherParent says:

    I’m really confused by a couple of these posts. Polo shirts are $5 at Target through Saturday. 5 shirts, $5 each (no tax because it’s tax free weekend) $25. I spent $9.99 at Beall’s two weeks ago for khaki shorts. I bought 3. That’s $30. My son already had jean shorts (which ARE allowed under the new policy…not sure why I’ve read more than once that they aren’t allowed), which rounds out 5 outfits. $55 and he’s done. I’m not sure where you all are shopping, but if money is so tight, I wouldn’t be spending $350 on pants (where exactly are you buying pants for $350????) or $300 on specialized uniforms.

    The School Board is agreeing to make accomodations for your child..what more do you want from them? This is one of the most lenient uniform policies I have ever seen. My niece has worn true uniforms in her public school in Hillsborough County since she started Kindergarten 3 years ago. No jeans, no tennis shoes, khaki/navy pants/shorts/skirts and navy/white/black polo shirts. Never once have I heard my sister complain about buying her school clothes. I certainly don’t understand the uproar about uniforms…your children WILL outgrow their clothing and you will have to buy more, so what’s the aversion to khaki shorts/pants and polo shirts?

    • Nancy N. says:

      “If money is so tight, I wouldn’t be spending….$300 on specialized uniforms.” – You don’t get it. The whole point of my previous comments is that because of my daughter’s medical and developmental issues I HAVE NO CHOICE but to spend that much if I want to put uniforms on her. Because that is what it costs to purchase uniform clothing that accommodates her needs. She did not own literally ONE SINGLE PIECE OF CLOTHING that conformed to the new uniform code. Not even a pair of jeans. I am having to buy her an entire new wardrobe from scratch, paying more per piece than I usually would for her typical pieces added gradually to her wardrobe over the course of a year – spreading the expense out of clothing for my daughter.

      “The school board is agreeing to make accommodations for your child…what more do you want from them?” What I want from the school board is recognition that this uniform policy has consequences that they didn’t fully consider, understanding that they have sacrificed the most vulnerable of their district’s children at the altar of an educational fad. There can be no good outcome of this uniform policy for my child, short of it going away. She is now trapped in clothing that is uncomfortable & impractical for her to wear due to her difficulties and that is more expensive for me to buy for her. Our only other option is to turn her into a social pariah by exempting her from the code (which the school district has made clear we would have to jump through hoops such as providing medical paperwork to do).

      I don’t have an aversion to khaki pants and polo shirts. What I have an aversion to is “one size fits all” rules when all kids aren’t the same, and the school district telling me that they know what is best for my child when they clearly DO NOT.

  8. joan says:

    Your child can be exampt from the uniforn policy. Everyone is different. Special needs, gifted, normal(what is that, nowadays).

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