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Packs project fuels student learning

Journal Opinion of Bradford, Vermont

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WOODSVILLE—At Woodsville High School, backpacks aren't just for books. For some WHS students, the only square meals they are guaranteed are those served in their school's cafeteria. But with the WHS Jobs for America's Graduates' Back Pack Project, those students can receive a backpack filled with enough food to last them through the weekend.

What began as an initiative created for a competition at the annual Jobs for America's Graduates Career Development Conference, has flourished in the hands of the JAG students. According to WHS JAG advisor and Youth Specialist Kim Spaulding, the students researched two similar programs prior to the competition. A representative from Project H.O.P.E in Lyndonville visited the students, provided information about their program and showed them one of their back packs.

Since that competition, where they won first place, the pantry in the WHS JAG classroom has been stocked with items like cereal, soup, peanut butter, jelly, healthy snacks, crackers and canned fruit that has been donated or purchase using monetary donations.

Each fall the group holds a food drive to collect food for the pantry. Spaulding said staff members often bring regular deliveries of food and one of the WHS aides makes sure there are cookies because, as she says, "every kid needs a cookie."

Spaulding said that the pantry is maintained, and the backpacks filled by two studentvith enough food to provide three dinners, two lunches and two breakfasts as well as snacks. The JAG students never interact with the recipients, and do not know their identities.

"They know it's confidential," she explained. "They know they're helping someone, they just don't know who."

Students who would like to take a backpack home are assured confidentiality and can contact one of two people to make their request: WHS Principal Robert Jones or a WHS counselor. There is a drop box where the students can pick up the backpack and then return it the following Monday without anybody knowing.

The students feel good about helping, Spaulding said.

"They take charge," she said. "They realize that they can make a difference."

According to the program brochure, the impact on these children is "enormous."

Through their research, the JAG students learned that students who do not have access to food at home are often edgy, disruptive and have difficulty focusing in school. Transitioning from a full week of school where they have two meals a day to home on the weekend where food is scarce is difficult for children, and they often return to school on Monday feeling sick.

To spread the word about the program, the JAG students prepared a brochure detailing the specifics of the program. There are also signs throughout the school. But mostly people hear about the program through word of mouth.

"The teachers know about us," Spaulding said, explaining that if a teacher notices that a student is suffering because they aren't able to get enough to eat, that teacher can contact the principal or the counselor.

"It's important for kids and the community to know we're here," Spaulding said. "I want the families to know we are here."

The JAG program runs year-round and currently serves 30 students, teaching employability and leadership skills.

Marianne Farr may be contacted at

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Original Publication Date: January 28, 2015

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