MATTOON, Ill. (WCIA) — It’s the first day of school for students in Mattoon and the district wanted to make sure everyone is prepared, all thanks to the community’s help.
Officials wanted to ensure each student came to school with their basic needs met. That includes everything like food, clothes, shelter and even emotional support.
“Building the student up,” said Community Services Director Kris Maleske. “Not letting them, making them feel any less than what they are, which is wonderful people.”
Mattoon school administrators are making sure supplying basic needs means more than offering just pencils and pens. Thanks to community donations, students are starting the school year fully stocked and prepared.
“We had so many supplies that we had to literally have it down in our large storage facility, down in transportation,” Maleske said. “And then we were inviting our social workers down to basically shop for their students.”
Supplies for students through fifth grade don’t cost parents anything. Older students can go to the school pantry to get bookbags, notebooks, food and even hygiene items.
Administrators said the need for supplies doesn’t go away as kids get older, but the need for discretion becomes greater.
“Especially as students get older, they become more self-aware,” Maleske added. “They become more self-aware of the things that they have and the things that they don’t have.”
The generosity of a Mattoon teacher who died, allows the district to help students throughout the school year. Through the Nancy Conlon Kindness for Kids Fund, teachers can access money for students’ needs.
“We’re trying to identify what those barriers are, we break down those barriers,” said At-risk Coordinator Scott Wattles. “We work with the parents and the students and our staff here and we’re trying to get them to school and keep them engaged.”
Wattles said the purpose is to strengthen the relationships between schools and families. And going the extra step beyond basic supplies is their way of doing that.
“The teachers can be prepared, ready to go,” said teacher Sarah Powers. “Students are ready to learn for whatever comes their way, no stress on families definitely makes for a better start for everybody.”
The district even goes as far as supplying mattresses for students who don’t have beds. Leaders said they’re also focusing on food insecurities this year that students could be facing.