The Record: Leaders of the Packs

August 31, 2012

THE NEW school term is just around the corner, and preparations are being made all over Bergen andPassaic counties.

Part of those preparations include making sure high school and elementary school students have everything they need to learn, whether it's in the form of some electronic device or a half-dozen brand-new pencils.

One essential that every child needs, of course, is a backpack, and fortunately for many kids in North Jersey, a number of non-profits — in some cases pairing with local businesses — step up year in and year out to make sure as many children as possible have one on the first day of school. Better Education for Kids, a New Brunswick-based non-profit and arm of the education reform advocacy group Better Education Institute, has taken on a highly visible role in this effort in recent years.

This year, the group is handing out nearly 10,000 backpacks in Passaic County alone, among roughly 25,000 it plans to disperse statewide. The group, now in its second year, gave out 40,000 backpacks last year to children in Jersey City, Asbury Park, Elizabeth, Camden and Perth Amboy.

Earlier this week, Better Education for Kids delivered 3,000 backpacks to the city of Passaic, and plans are for a Tuesday distribution of some 5,000 backpacks at two Paterson high schools: John F. Kennedy and Eastside. The giveaway is set for 5-7 p.m.

"We target areas where there are underprivileged kids [and] try to reach out to as many communities as we can," said Gerard Green, outreach coordinator with Better Education for Kids. "Our philosophy here is for every child to be equipped with the proper school supplies that are needed so they have a good start to the school year."

Green said the Better Education backpacks will be stuffed with various school supplies, including notebooks, folders, pencils and a glue stick. The group's backpack drive is complement to a number of other similar efforts that have become commonplace in recent years.

We applaud these efforts and the donors who made them possible. A backpack is a tangible item, a thing a child can latch on to and appreciate.

It is one small gesture, to be sure, but one that will go a long way toward helping students navigate the ups and downs of a new school year.