Free #SchoolisCool event to provide school supplies

Published on Saturday, 9 August 2014 21:55 - Written by Emily Guevara

The community will come together like never before this week to celebrate the start of school and provide for Tyler parents and students.

The free #SchoolisCool event from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday will feature several “neighborhoods” related to different back-to-school needs.

The Harvey Convention Center will be divided into seven areas with about 120 booths related to a variety of services and issues.

These include health care issues such as immunizations, free dental screens, nutrition and health and wellness information; afterschool activities; transportation info; fingerprinting and safety; college preparation; school lunch registration; haircuts and a school uniform fashion show. Goodwill plans to set up a mobile store on site as well.

In addition, the first 300 plus children who come to the event will get a free backpack filled with school supplies.

“The main thing that I hope comes out of it is that families feel more prepared and confident to start the school year off right so they’re getting all of the services that they need,” Christi Khalaf, executive director of the Tyler Area Business Education Council, said. “They’re getting some great information and they feel like they’re armed with the appropriate tools to have a successful school year.”

A committee of about 30 people has been planning the event since the spring. The idea for it came out of the new education chapter in the city’s Tyler 1st plan.

“It’s been a very fast process,” Ms. Khalaf said. “(It) shows you how the communities really ready for something like this. The response we got when we asked people to come on board and help was just amazing. It’s just evidence that people think this is a valuable thing for this community.”

Assistant City Manager Susan Guthrie said for a long time the city sort of stayed out of education, deferring to Tyler ISD and the other schools in the area.

However, she said, there was sort of this “aha” moment when the city realized that businesses need to know and see that education is a priority and a strength in the community in order to want to locate and invest here.

The city established an education building block as part of its Industry Growth Initiative, then added the education chapter to its Tyler 1st plan.

“We need to wrap our arms around this as a community,” Ms. Guthrie said of education.

TISD spokeswoman Dawn Parnell said the district has been involved with the event since the beginning. It’s an idea that all the partners shared and wanted to see come to fruition, she said.

“We just want to have as much information available for students and for parents at one place so they can get all they need to start off the school year successfully,” she said.

Brenda Stratton with the Tyler ISD Council PTA said the event provides a great opportunity to get a jump-start on a successful school year because so many organizations will be represented.

“To me it feels like a shortcut to connecting all the dots,” she said. “It is a great group all coming together in one evening, and to miss this is a huge mistake.”

The addition of the school supplies and backpack donations came when the city learned that a local nonprofit had not received a grant for a school supplies program. So Ms. Guthrie said they decided to start an effort on their own.

The donations came first from city employees with different departments. Then several companies, institutions and individuals joined the effort by contributing backpacks, supplies and/or funds to purchase them.

These include: Summit Industrial Products, Tyler Pipe, Suddenlink, Eastman Chemical in Longview, Texas College, Kimberly Ashley of UT Health Northeast and other community members.

As of Thursday, the city had more than 300 backpacks stuffed with school supplies to give away at the event.

There also is the opportunity for those who attend to be entered in a drawing for a bicycle.

Ms. Khalaf said with all of the information and resources they will have under one roof at this event, “it really provides the opportunity for people to access services that they might not have access to or know about.”

Event sponsors are Brookshire’s, the Tyler ISD Council PTA, NET Health, Tyler Area Business Education Council, city of Tyler and Tyler ISD.

Organizers plan on making this an annual event.