LANDOVER – Prince George’s County unofficially welcomed back families and students back to school with their ninth annual block party event in Landover on Aug. 17.
The school system and its sponsors came together to give away 9,000 backpacks to area students who arrived at the event at the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex, according to Partnerships Officer Barbara Holt Streeter.
Families were asked to register the week prior, but if they were not able to, sign-in tables were available. The line stretched out to the FedExField parking lot with volunteers offering water for those waiting to register.
“This is all amazing to see everyone coming through,” At-Large School Board Member Sandra Shephard said. “There are so many wonderful things in Prince George’s County, and it makes me so proud to see this. What we did today is show the people our capabilities of we are doing and how hard we are working.”
Riverdale resident and new Parkdale High School student Suany Moreno, 16, arrived with her family members at 6 a.m. for the festivities. They were the first ones in line and invited to help cut the ribbon to start the school year with County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and State Comptroller Peter Franchot before going inside to choose their backpack.
“Sometimes, our parents do not have time to go out and buy book bags so coming here, we can get that and maybe some supplies that will help us out,” Moreno said.
The ability to get a free backpack was one expense her mother, Concepcion Espinal, 40, did not have to worry about in preparing the family for the school year.
Not only was Suany going to high school but her older brother, Greyson Mejia, 17, recently emigrated from Honduras and will be attending Parkdale as well. Lastly, the family’s youngest, six-year-old Junior Moreno, was overly excited for a new backpack before starting the first grade at Glenridge Elementary School.
“This relieves a lot of stress off of my mother and me,” Mejia said. “It is more than just help or assistance, plus it does help you save money on something else you may need for school.”
However, not everything was geared towards students preparing for the school year. The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) and Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers shared a table to alert families of their food bank as well as tutoring programs and GED courses.
Instructor José Granados said while the event’s focus is on students’ returning to school, it is important to remind all county residents of the other programs in the area that their children can take advantage of.
“We provide more than just after-school support,” Granados said. “We do Community-At-A-Glance events if they may need bilingual skills or connections. We have case management for families in need. That is why we really want to put our name out there and help out when we can.”
Jay Horn, 40, attended the previous versions of the county’s Back-to-School events but said that this year’s edition was the most helpful. The mother of four children from Bowie added that the amount free items being given out plus the outside information available to families made the whole event a “one-stop-shop” before school starts.
“We think it is a really good idea to have the kids out to learn about the environment and get a backpack,” Horn said.“This definitely makes things a lot easier because now all my four kids have backpacks and that is one less thing I have to shop for.”
The event also provided free vision and dental screening through the Oral Health Impact Project, an organization that works with school districts to provide affordable dental care to students.
The event was pitched as a block party, as featured fun activities like games, face-painting and a hula-hoop competition with Councilmember Mel Franklin (D-At Large). Singer Raheem DeVaughn made a surprise appearance and performed to close out the festivities.
There will be one more event in District 6 in Upper Marlboro on Aug. 23 sponsored by School Board Member Belinda Queen and State Del. Jazz Lewis (D-24) at the Launch Trampoline Park. The first 40 students will be admitted for free to the event where backpacks with school supplies will be given away.
“What a great morning at the PGCPS Back to School Block Party,” Alsobrooks said. “We gave out free backpacks and supplies to more than 9,000 students. Thank you Prince Georgians for your generosity and helping us ensure every child is ready to go back to school.”