Kansas City, Mo. — Teachers in the Kansas City School District have come to expect a hodge-podge of supplies on the first day of class.
Parents unable to buy everything on the back-to-school list send their children to school with whatever they can afford. In a single classroom, one student with only a pencil might sit next to a child whose parents also can afford a new box of crayons and backpack.
Charities have stepped in to collect supplies. But that also has led to inconsistency, with students in one school getting just a handful of supplies and students in another getting everything on the list.
In an effort to address the problem, the district is working with Olathe, Kan.-based Heart to Heart International, business and civic groups to provide backpacks filled with a consistent set of school supplies and hygiene items to about 10,000 kindergarten to sixth-grade students. Efforts also are under way to provide supplies to older students and pre-kindergartners, said district spokesman Andre Riley.
The district said the new effort — announced Tuesday and called Backpacks for Achievement — will ensure students receive all the supplies they need. Businesses chipping in money include Target, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, Hallmark, U.S. Toy and OfficeMax.
"We are finding that in this economic environment our families are struggling like everyone else across the county," Riley said in a phone interview. "Disposable income is gone. Budgets are tight, but we need to find a way to ensure that our kids have what they need to succeed on the first day of school."
He said the problem of students showing up without what they need placed a burden on teachers and made students feel bad about themselves.
"Our teachers feel for their kids, and they need them to have items so many of our teachers will go out and buy items to support our kids," Riley said. "We were finding it was more and more of a problem and our classroom teachers were taking on more of that burden."
District superintendent John Covington said in a news release that the program will allow students to "not focus on what tools they may or may not have, but on what they should be learning."
Heart to Heart has been active in providing backpacks for needy students throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area.
"These backpacks will be prepared by volunteers and delivered to students who are eager to achieve academically but who often don't have the essential supplies to do so," Heart to Heart CEO Andre Butler said in a news release.