The UFT doubled down this year on its customary end-of-summer initiatives to support students and their families with school supply giveaways, information, resources and plain old fun. As the school year begins, many families are struggling financially because of inflation and pandemic-related obstacles.
“Many communities don’t have opportunities to get supplies as we get back into school-year mode,” said Vivian Romani, a 4th-grade math teacher and the chapter leader at PS 55 on Staten Island.
The union shared school supplies, books, treats, information and resources at three recent events: the Harlem Week Children’s Festival on Aug. 20, a backpack giveaway and barbecue on Staten Island on Aug. 24, and a book giveaway at the UFT’s Bronx borough office on Aug. 27.
“I was stressing out about school supplies, so I said, oh my god, this is perfect,” said Shania Dausuel, who came to the Staten Island Marine Corps League for the UFT barbecue with her three children, who are all in elementary school. Each child received a backpack filled with pencils, pens, notebooks, folders, rulers, a first aid kit and a flier about the UFT’s campaign to restore school funding. They explored vendor tables, had lunch and engaged in arts and crafts with the help of UFT member volunteers, including Romani.
“Why not give a party?” asked Marie Rodriguez, the UFT’s Staten Island parent and community liaison, who expanded this year’s annual backpack giveaway at the union’s Staten Island office to include refreshments and activities in the hope of “carrying over good feelings” into the new semester.
“It’s good to see the community coming out, having fun, meeting new people and getting back to a little bit of normal,” said UFT Staten Island Borough Representative Sean Rotkowitz.
Two hours after the barbecue’s start, all 350 backpacks had been claimed and the line to enter the event still stretched down the block. The waiting families would still receive books, a box of school supplies and information.
The reception at Harlem Week was enthusiastic as the UFT distributed almost 7,000 books, 2,000 COVID-19 rapid tests, hundreds of backpacks filled with school supplies, and information about union campaigns and programs.
The UFT collaborated with the New York Public Library at the Bronx event, handing out backpacks filled with supplies, books and COVID tests. There was also story time with librarians, face-painting, ice cream and music.
At all three events, families learned about the UFT’s Dial-A-Teacher program, which offers free homework help from licensed teachers, and the UFT’s Be BRAVE Against Bullying program, which provides mental health support and bullying prevention education to students and parents.
“Being able to provide a little bit of relief from the struggles of everyday life for the past three years shows that the union is in lockstep with the needs of the community,” said Nick Cruz, the UFT director of community and parent engagement.
As part of its efforts to fill these needs, the UFT also shared information with parents about what they can do to voice their opposition to the mayor’s school budget cuts.
“Families are in tune with our fight and ready to take action,” said Cruz.
Parents and caregivers, he said, feel frustrated that they aren’t directly involved when the city makes decisions that affect their children’s schools. “But they have a seat at the table at one of the largest unions in the country,” he said. “Parents are front and center in the UFT’s organizing.”