These Backpacks Change the Lives of Elementary School Students
When I was 10 years old, I had an experience that changed my life. This experience wasn’t getting a life-threating disease or a loved one dying. This experience was a school field trip.
Well, it was actually more of a service learning trip. It was to a public elementary school only about 12 miles away from my expensive, private, college preparatory elementary school. But these two schools seemed to be in different worlds.
When we got to this school we were partnered up with the students of a kindergarten class. We did things like math flash cards and then we colored some holiday cards with the students. I noticed that unlike the seemingly unlimited amount of crayons on the tables at my school, there were about seven to eight crayons on each table that all the children shared. While at my table, I overheard one of the little girls saying that she wanted a box of the "skinny crayons," but her mom said she couldn’t afford them.
I overheard one of the little girls saying that she wanted a box of the "skinny crayons," but her mom said she couldn’t afford them.
That was the moment that changed my life. Something in me awakened. A fire burned from within and I made it my mission to get that little girl the skinny crayons she wanted. What I didn’t realize was these crayons were just the tip of a horrible iceberg.
What I learned after that school trip, upon talking with one of the schools social workers, was that this problem was way larger than just that one little girl. It was way larger than just not having a box of crayons. Students at schools like the one we visited lacked all basic school supplies. By basic I mean things like backpacks, glue sticks, pencils, erasers, etc. Because of this, the students face many difficulties. And this problem is unfortunately not isolated to just this school.
Two in five. That's the statistic for how many students in the United States will start their school year without the supplies they need to succeed in school. Two in five.
Because these students don’t have basic school supplies at home, they can’t do their homework. This why I call them "homework supplies." Students also start to develop lower self-esteem because they may see a peer succeeding because they have supplies. They also face the disappointment of their teachers when they haven’t completed an assignment, also negatively affecting their self-esteem.
It's not that these kids don’t want to succeed in school. It is not as if they are just lazy. They're hardworking, smart, creative, and strong kids who have big dreams. They want to succeed, but they don’t have the supplies to do so.
This is why a started an organization called Rainbow Pack at age 10. Over the past five years, we have given out over 9,500 backpacks full of new, grade appropriate school supplies that we call "Rainbow Packs."
When I tell people about Rainbow Pack and what we do and why we do it, I usually get a sort of, "Aww that's so sweet." But that really isn’t the reaction people should be having. People should be angry and upset. The reason people say, "Awww" and not "wow that makes me really mad" is because people don’t fully understand the problem Rainbow Pack is trying to solve.
How is it accepted that two in five students will start school without the supplies they need to succeed? How is it accepted that students are having to stick stuff to their paper with chewed gum because they don’t have glue at home? How is it accepted that students have low self-esteem because of this problem? How is it accepted so much so that some teachers actually adjust their curriculum because their students don’t have supplies? But this can only go so far because how can you assign something for homework that doesn't involve a pencil.
This can't be normal. It makes me angry these kids and their families know that education is their families' way and their children's way out of the vicious cycle of poverty. But this way out slowly goes away when their children don’t even have a pencil at home. I refuse to accept this, and you shouldn't either.
So each year, days after the Rainbow Pack team visits schools to give the 800, 900, 1000, or more kids in one school Rainbow Packs so that they can do their homework. We turn around and start raising funds so that we can do it bigger and better the next year. Our hope is that eventually we will get enough attention for this problem that it can’t be ignored. It can’t be swept under the rug or left to the already overworked and over judged teachers to figure out. It can’t be blamed on the families who are already struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
The local school districts have to acknowledge they need provide all students with the same quality of education. If that means providing some of the students pencils, erasers, and the occasional glue stick, then that’s what they will need to do.
Until then, there is Rainbow Pack.
When Riley isn't working to bring equal education to all the elementary school kids in Los Angeles as the Founder/CEO of Rainbow Pack she is a high school student. She loves to belt out tunes and play guitar as she does her homework. Her dog Ella and cat Finnegan make a fabulous audience for these impromptu performances. When she's not rabble-rousing or writing you can find Riley behind her camera.