The community of Atlantic City comes together to get kids ready for school.local news

Atlantic City — Only a few days left until the first day of school. Communities come together to celebrate students and families and connect them with important resources.

Atlantic City’s back-to-school bash was held Monday afternoon at the Uptown School Complex. A variety of community resource organizations lined the school grounds, and music and attractions drew children and families from all over the city. Perhaps the biggest draw was the over 800 free backpacks available to families who attended the event.

The Atlantic City Board of Education, the city, and the Oceanside Family Success Center helped organize the event.

Lizbeth Castro-James, Community Parental Involvement Specialist for the Atlantic City School District, helped lead the organizational effort. She said the festival’s goal is to bring together stakeholders from various communities to help children before the school year begins.

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“Our goal today was to give back,” said Castro James.

Families who attended the event said it was helpful.

Ronald Glass Jr. came to celebrate with his daughter, Julia Marie Brown Glass, 8, who is a student at Uptown. He said the event was a “fun time” for everyone involved and provided important back-to-school material.

“People take it for granted, but some people can’t afford a backpack,” said Ronald Glass Jr., mindful of those most in need.

Ricardo Estrada came with his 3-year-old daughter, who had just started the preschool program at the school district. Through his interpreter, he said he was grateful for what the event and people in the community gave to the children.

Rubi Conde has four grandchildren in the district and decided to attend. She said she wished there were more refreshments for the large crowd that gathered, but she was impressed with the event in general and the participation of local colleges in particular .

“Overall, it’s a good thing,” said Conde.

Teachers and vendors were equally impressed. Yvonne Sutton participated in Title I, a program that provides a variety of resources for students and families to promote equitable education. The event connected families and resources in a direct way rarely seen during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

Castro-James estimates that more than 1,500 people arrived within the first hour, and about 3,000 people attended the entire celebration, which ran from noon to 3 p.m.

Habiba Chowdhury, 34, has three children in the district. She called the event “truly amazing.” Families are connected to much-needed information such as health care and family resources.

“For people who can’t really afford to buy a lot of things, it’s an opportunity to get them for free,” Chowdhury says. “And it’s really fun.”

Carla Valdes, who has one child in the district, Jeremiah Sotello, 6, appreciated the festival. When asked why he came, Sotero simply pointed to one of the two bounce castles on the scene.

A variety of organizations attended the celebration, including several healthcare tents from Etna, Horizon New Jersey Health and Wellness. The Southern Jersey Family Medical Center was on standby to provide information on dental visits and annual checkups. He also provided vaccinations for COVID-19 inside the school building.

In addition to Oceanside, other academic groups also attended the event in a way that reflected how the celebration was geared towards all ages. It was home to Atlantic Cape Community College, Atlantic City Library, Stockton University, and Connect The Dots, a SAT and ACT preparation organization. Mighty Writers, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that promotes literacy and related skills, attended the event to educate about the program and provide free books. Stockton’s Neues Art Museum showcased butterfly-themed arts and crafts.

Social services such as the Atlantic Cape Family Support Organization, Atlantic County Youth Services and Atlantic City Boys & Girls Clubs were also available, all with tents for the event.

Younger children enjoyed the end of summer vacation while learning more about the resources available to families and older children. In addition to Bouncing Castle, kids could play in the corn hole, throw balls on the giant inflatable dart board, and dance to live DJ music.

The Edwin B. Forsyth National Wildlife Refuge, which protects the South Jersey coastline as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation System, was at the event with a blue goose mascot. Wildlife Sanctuary Sean Daly said he was there to spread awareness of his conservation work and “have fun with people.”

This event was held to encourage people to explore the various resources available. Participants were required to visit a certain number of tents on the grounds before collecting a free backpack and free tacos from The Walking Taco Company.

Superintendent La’Quetta Small was present and thanked the City, Oceanside and other stakeholders for coming together to make the back-to-school event possible.

“It’s a great opportunity to provide resources for parents,” says Small. “Our goal is to work together to support families.”

Castro-James said it was the first time the district, city and Oceanside worked together to bring the event to students. She said she hopes to grow the event over the next few years.

“We make it very clear to our parents that we are here for them,” Castro-James said. “We definitely plan to expand.”

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