By Joe Benish, Photos by Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News
Every parent wants their child to succeed in school. Every teacher wants every one of their students to succeed. Every member of the community wants students and schools to succeed.
Recognizing these facts and realizing that student success begins on the very first day of school, the United Way of Lebanon County and community partners prepared and distributed about 1,780 School Success Kits on the first day of school to first-graders throughout the county.
Before the first week of school was over, teachers were contacting United Way officials to thank them, an early indication that the project, aimed in part at building a child’s excitement about the new school year, is a success. But that’s just a small part of the story.
In addition to basic supplies, like pencils, markers and notebooks, each Success Kit included a T-shirt inscribed with “Class of 2029 Live United,” with logos of the project partners on the back.
Sponsors included IU13, Staples 2 Million & Change, Comcast, Lebanon County PSEA, Lebanon County Education Council, Luthercare for Kids, Mr. and Mrs. Edward and Jeanne Arnold and Better Together. A letter to parents in both English and Spanish, explaining the program and encouraging parents to be actively involved and supportive in their child’s education accompanied the Success Kits.
The Success Kit project goes well beyond that first-day excitement, according to United Way officials. In addition to providing students with “hands-on” tools to succeed in their daily school work, the kits provide a valuable way for the United Way and other agencies to engage with families.
“This is an extension of our traditional Stuff the Bus Program. We are seeking a way to connect with families throughout the county. We know that parents are their children’s first teacher and their involvement in education affects school success. The goal of family engagement as part of the School Success Kit initiative is to provide parents with tools and resources necessary to be a capable and competent contributors to their child’s education,” explains Brooke Smith, United Way’s director of community impact.
Her sentiment was echoed by United Way CEO Kenny Montijo, who told La Voz Latina Central that building lasting partnerships between schools, parents, other agencies and the entire community is an important goal of the Success Kit Program.
“We all recognize there are needs throughout the community, but those needs are not just based on financial or social status, Montijo explains. “As we know, disaster or other hardships can strike any family at any time. That is why we include important information and resources for all parents, so they can access United Way programs and other community resources when they need them.”
Many community partners assisted in preparing the Resource folders for parents, including Quest, CAP, VISTA, Big Brothers & Big Sisters and PROBE. Volunteers from Cummins stuffed items in all the kits, while Colortech and Bluescope helped deliver the kits to the county’s six school districts and to first-grade teachers at Lebanon Catholic and New Covenant elementary schools.
The United Way of Lebanon County Success Kit effort doesn’t end there, however. In addition to ongoing engagement with parents and community resources, plans are underway to have this year’s first-graders help assemble Success Kits next summer for next year’s incoming first-graders, according to Montijo, further instilling in them a sense of community through volunteering.
As the United Way’s Brooke Smith notes, “Education is a cornerstone for success in school, work and life. It also benefits the whole community: high-school graduates have higher earning potential, contribute more to their local economies, are more engaged in their communities and are more likely to raise kids who also graduate on time.”
Parents can visit unitedwaylebco.org to sign up to receive ongoing communication from the United Way, including community programs, family activities and educational information. ◆