LUMBERTON — Eleven-year-old Lawrence Kennedy isn’t sweating the approach of a new school year.
He along with thousands of other Robeson County school students got a head-start on the school year thanks to Thursday’s fourth annual Back to School Celebration at the Southeastern Agricultural Center.
“Mom, look,” Lawrence said, peering over the crowd. “I see my principal.”
The daylong event, which this year attracted an estimated 20,000 students, up from last year’s turnout of 18,000, gave parents, students and teachers a chance to meet before the start of the new school year on Aug. 25 and also served as a way to ensure all students have access to the necessary school supplies for the 2014-15 school year..
“We put together lists for each grade level, with all the supplies they’ll need,” said Amy Haigler, parent coordinator and the event’s primary organizer. “We give them free paper, pencils, writing tablets, rulers and we have more than 24,000 book bags, enough for every student in the district.”
Haigler says that allowing every child access to the same supplies helps even the playing field and prevents students who may not have the economic advantages of other students from feeling singled out.
This year the need for events like this one was made greater by the state’s decision to cancel the annual tax-free weekend event, which for the past 10 years had served as a way of making back-to-school shopping less expensive for families.
“I appreciate them helping with the school supplies, that really comes in handy,” said Susan Munroe-Thomas, mother to Lawrence, as well as two other Robeson County school children. “It is also really good to be able to meet some of the teachers, especially if you have a child entering a new school that they have never been to before.”
“I like getting to know who my teacher is, and it can be fun just to get out,” Lawrence said.
Families aren’t the only ones to benefit from the annual tradition. Eric Sanders, principal for Townsend Middle School in Maxton, says he has looked forward to the event each year.
“It is just such a good way to connect with the kids and let parents know about the events we have coming up,” Sanders said. “I have worked with my school for seven years now, and I will see kids who have come through my school come by after they have reached high school and it is good to see them growing up. We also get to see kids who will be attending our school in the future. We use the book bags and the supplies as a draw, but having all the kids here, where they can see a face and make a connection is so important and it helps them feel a little easier going into the school year.”
This year the event featured 15 major sponsors, including Barnes & Nobles and the Coca Cola Company, as well as 150 volunteers from around the community.
“My mom is a principal, so I have been volunteering every year they have done this,” said Jenna Dif, 21-year-old daughter of Laura Dif, who works as principal for Rowland Norment Elementary School. “I just love seeing children running around, actually being excited about starting school.”
According to Haigler, students who were unable to attend Thursday’s event will have an opportunity to pick up school supplies on the first day of school.
“We just wanted to do something that we thought would help every child,” Haigler said. “Every child needs a book bag. I think every child should start with the basics.”