As some Fairmont Firebirds fly into their freshman year, they do so with help from volunteers who try to make sure students get the supplies they need to begin high school.
The program, which provides freshmen in need with backpacks stuffed full of school supplies, is organized by Social Studies teacher Dave Fisher. He said he started the initiative three years ago when he learned that freshmen no longer had access to programs that had helped them with supplies in the younger grades.
“When I found out that students could get free bookbags, crayons and supplies until the eighth grade, but then couldn’t get them anymore, it didn’t make sense to me,” he said.
Since its inception, Fisher’s program has provided more than 200 bags to students. Fisher said around 40 bookbags with supplies were distributed the first year, but this year nearly 130 have been handed out so far.
Why such a sharp rise?
“You’re always going to have people in need,” Fisher said. “Sometimes, it just gets worse. This year we have the highest number of freshman coming in, plus we have a tremendous poverty level in Kettering, about 44 percent. That’s not a good mix; you’re going to have some underprivileged kids coming into the area.”
Fisher added that a bookbag with supplies for the high school level costs about $100 per student. “If you can save a family a hundred dollars, it makes all the difference,” he said.
Throughout the year, Fisher seeks donations of school supplies from the community,Fairmont staff and even other students. In the summer, a few teachers and some students from the National Honor Society meet to put together the bags, so they’re all packed and ready to go a week or two before school starts.
Fisher acknowledged that it can be hard for teenagers to admit that money is tight and they need help. “I try to buy generic bags to spare embarrassment, but they’re very appreciative. The parents have been very kind, and it will make all the difference in the long run.”
Fisher said freshman advisory teachers also help make the program work. “This is why I like the homerooms so much,” he said. “The teachers are very close to the students, and it’s hard for some students to ask for help sometimes. These teachers will come and ask me for a bag for so-and-so, and I’ll give them one to give to the student.”
The program has been going strong for three years, and Fisher says he has many people to thank for that. “This is not, and will never be, a one-man job,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this without the NHS, the churches, the teachers and the community. The committee meets every year to plan this. There are a lot of hands in this pot. The school district and the community have been great at supporting this program.”
Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf endorses the bookbag program and emphasizes that what Fisher and others do is completely voluntary. “I haven’t asked them to stay after school and do this; they’re not getting paid for it,” VonHandorf said.
“Mr. Fisher has a great heart, and he wants to help any way he can,” the principal added. “This is a great example of what makes this place friendly, inviting and a great learning environment. The freshmen are walking into a whole world of opportunities here, and we want to help them succeed.”
Fisher said he’s still seeking help from the community. “For those who are interested, any supplies that you could donate would be a godsend right now,” he said, adding that he can’t accept cash or checks but would welcome donations of bookbags and supplies. Items can be sent to him at Fairmont.
Fisher admits that he sometimes worries that the demand will stretch the program’s limits. “It might be high, but we just have to roll with it and do our part,” he said. “But we always have plenty, so we’ll be fine.”