Back to School party draws a crowd at Duggan Park Apartments
Parents and children flocked to an open area at Springfield Housing Authority’s Duggan Park Apartments on a recent afternoon, where loaded backpacks, ice cream cones and a few exotic animals were on hand to celebrate an important upcoming event.
Back to school.
In Springfield, that happens on August 26 for those in grades 1 through 12, and on Sept. 3 and 4 for kindergartners and preschoolers.
At Duggan, the celebration had a happy tone inside and outside the Talk/Read/Succeed! headquarters at 435 Goodwin St. Staff handed out backpacks loaded with notepads, pencils, crayons, rulers, youth volunteers served up ice cream donated by Alvin’s All-Natural Ice Cream, and the Forest Park Zoo on the Go stopped by to show off a cockatoo, a hedgehog, and a few other unusual animals.
Raffle prizes included toys donated by an anonymous benefactor, and books from the Book Rich Environment program, thanks to SHA’s participation in a national coalition that includes the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Book Foundation, and the Urban Libraries Council.
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan said the festive occasion was a great way to get children and their parents ready for the return to the classroom.
“This gets everybody focused on school in a very positive way,” Jordan said. “They get a few handy tools to get them ready, and they have a chance to interact with neighbors in a fun and productive way.”
Also on hand were SHA Deputy Executive Director Nicole Contois, Resident Services Director Pamela Wells, and staff and volunteers with T/R/S!, a collaborative, family-based program run at three city public housing developments that focuses on early literacy.
For parents and children, the day was a neighborly way to get together and to give nod to the changes that are just on the horizon.
“I’m happy about school in a way because my best friend is going to be in my same classroom,” said 10-year-old Anayalise Casiano, a student at Warner Elementary School.
“But I’m nervous too because I know fifth grade is going to be harder than fourth grade. I’m going to have to study and work hard,” she admitted.
She arrived to the celebration with her mother, Ivette Hernandez, and her older brother, Isaiah Bermudez, who is 14.
“We love things like this because it’s so good to get out here and participate, and good for the kids,” said Hernandez.
Another mother, Maidees Negron, agreed.
“I like this,” she said. “It gets everybody together and it gets the children all thinking about school. It’s that time.”
Bonnie Campbell arrived with twin daughters Julianna and Charisma, now 15 and about to start their sophomore years. The girls have been involved with T/R/S! since it began at Duggan two years ago.
“We’ll do anything that benefits the children,” Campbell said. “It’s always about the kids. This is a nice day and a nice celebration.”
In all, about 100 people attended.
T/R/S! is nearly a decade old, starting out in 2010 at Robinson Garden and Sullivan and expanding to Duggan. The program works with several local agencies, along with feeder elementary schools Indian Orchard, Dorman and Boland, for programs and services.
Wells said the event is an important part of the T/R/S! program, with similar back-to-school activities schedule for the other two program sites, Robinson Gardens and Sullivan Apartments. Children get important items to begin the school year, parents pick up printed information relating to their children’s education – including the academic calendar for the 2019-20 school year – and families register for ongoing activities aimed at boosting literacy.
“Our back-to-school events are a great way for us to get parents and children involved in the T/R/S! programs that continue through the year,” Wells noted. “They also give everyone an opportunity to catch up or meet each other as the summer comes to an end.”
Perhaps the biggest draw for the young set was the Forest Park Zoo on the Go, which arrived in a van that contained a few caged animals along with zoo educator Savannah Marcotte and education intern Madison Grenier, both on hand to display, explain answer questions about the animals.
Visiting animals included Ella the cockatoo, Sonic the hedgehog, Logan the ferrit, Cheetoh the lizard and Colby the bald python. All drew oohs and ahhs, along with the chance to gently pet animals not often seen.
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