UPPER MARLBORO – Book bags, school supplies and free immunizations were some of the free giveaways thousands of visitors received at the Prince George’s County Public Schools Back To School Fair on Aug. 8. Between 3,000 and 5,000 parents and students lined up at 6:30 a.m., four hours before the event actually started, to get […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Book bags, school supplies and free immunizations were some of the free giveaways thousands of visitors received at the Prince George’s County Public Schools Back To School Fair on Aug. 8.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 parents and students lined up at 6:30 a.m., four hours before the event actually started, to get into the fair at Show Place Arena.
Dr. Kevin Maxwell, PGCPS CEO, spoke at the opening ceremony before the start of the fair. He said the mission of the fair is to get the students ready to go back to school and it was great joy to see residents impressed when they walked into the fair and saw all of the opportunities that are available in the county’s school district.
“All of our county schools and sponsors have booths here so you can educate yourself on the variety and opportunities in our district,” Maxwell said. “In addition to our vendors, there’s an opportunity to be immunized if your kids haven’t gotten their immunization shots yet.”
The PGCPS sponsors gave away thousands of backpacks and registered families who are eligible for free or reduced meals. The school system reassured parents that making sure the students have the school supplies that they need is very important to them.
“We want our kids to be prepared on the first day and do their part, which is to learn,” Maxwell said. “We want them to have the tools they need because we truly believe our county’s staff and students are all greater by choice.”
Birgitt Brevard, community outreach and engagement specialist, organized the Back To School Fair along with a committee of 20 members who took on the responsibility of making it a true community event.
“The PGCPS family and community outreach department is present, along with 69 parent-engagement assistants who are new to the system. They were assigned to different schools to engage the community, parents and the school system to make this a well-rounded effort,” Brevard said.
Many of the schools’ business partners, as well as county government agencies, contributed monetarily or donated school supplies such as backpacks and other resources.
“Some of the biggest sponsors are Kaiser Permanente, who donated money,” Brevard said. “WSSC contributed backpacks and the Federal Credit Union delivered 2,500 backpacks to a selecte number of Title I schools. Shoppers provided food for our volunteers and also handed out backpacks to the students.”
Brevard said the PGCPS outreach department’s focus is on getting the parents and entire families involved. At the fair there were surveys given to each parent asking for input on whether the schools are parent-friendly.
Aleata G. Dawkins is a parent of three children who attend Prince George’s County Public Schools. This is her second year attending the fair and she arrived early enough to be one of the first ones inside the building. Her daughter Brianna will be graduating from Benjamin D. Foulois Arts Academy in the following spring.
“It’s a one-stop shop for all of the necessary resources for the school year,” said Dawkins. “I loved seeing the vendors, mentoring programs, and parenting and education assistance. I was able to find transportation services today and my daughter is researching the next high school she will be going to next year. It’s the perfect opportunity to do everything in one place.”
Carlene Murray, Northwestern High School principal, showed a lot of enthusiasm during the fair and is more than ready for the school year to begin. This is her second year as principal and she loves seeing all of the kids at the fair and being a part of the excitement.
“Getting a chance to see all of the parents is a great part of the event,” Murray said. “Someone once told me that the school system is like a tripod. We all have to work together, parents, students and staff, in order to get our mission accomplished. I’m glad summer break is almost over because I miss being around the kids. They are my energy source. They make us excited about being at the school, so I can’t wait for them to come back.”
Dr. Angela M. Wakhweya, chief of School Health Policy Services & Innovation, said her department’s mission at the fair was to make sure as many children as possible get vaccines at no cost to the family.
“Many came out today for a free backpack and other great things, but we want to make sure the students are fully immunized and ready for the school year,” Wakhweya said. “We are doing the full spectrum that is required by law. That includes Polio to TDAP, MMR, and Meningitis.”
This year regulations required kindergartners and first graders to get the chicken pox shots before coming to school. The county’s seventh and eighth graders are required to get the TDAP shot.
“The Back to School Fair has taken place in the county for five years,” Wakhweya said. “Last year we did the immunizations for the first time and only had about 50 people show up. This year we worked with our communications office more and they have done a fabulous job marketing the free immunizations.”
Wakhweya and her staff worked with the Prince George’s County Health Department, who produced fliers in English and Spanish, to market the event as much as possible.
“We were expecting a very large turnout today since 200 people pre-registered for their child’s immunizations. We are also expecting 100 more walk-ins, so in total that’s over 300 students,” Wakhweya said. “We brought in extra staff to help with the volume and called in nurses form the school system so that we don’t have to turn anyone away. Working beside each other in a collaborative manner has made this a successful day.”
Sherrie Johnson, Public Information Officer, said it is exciting to see so many people with their families getting the resources they need to succeed and lining up to get their immunization shots.
“I am happy to see people taking advantage of the free immunization and grabbing information about the schools,” Johnson said. “I can gladly say this is another successful event. We are excited about the up and coming school year and are ready to showcase the positive things the PGCPS students will be learning.”
According to Maxwell, the county’s strategic plan for the school year is already developed and was adopted by the board this past spring. The strategic plan has a renewed focus on literacy and parents can go online to view the plan at anytime.
“We are doing what needs to be done to implement the plan by aligning it with our daily plan and training our teachers to use it throughout the year,” said Maxwell.
Maxwell and the PGCPS teachers and staff urge parents to stay engaged in their children’s education every day.
“Don’t let kids get away with the easy one worded answer. Make sure you inquire about what your children are learning in school, whether its subjects, books or studying,” Maxwell said. “Be involved at home by having your kids read to you every day. Ask questions, not just to your kids, but also contact the school with questions about what’s being taught or how situations are being handled. Talk to your child’s school directly.”