Group promotes learning

Area teachers know how important it is for children to have the supplies they need to excel in school.

Those educators are coming together to ensure children have those supplies, regardless of students' financial situation.

Members of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, a professional honorary society of women educators in Catawba County, collect school supplies, book bags and books to donate to every school in the county.

The book bag project evolved during the years as schools' and students' needs changed. The goal, however, remained the same: to prevent students from suffering academically because they don't have the necessary pens, pencils, paper or crayons needed in the classroom.

"With the economy that's gotten the way it has, more parents are needing help," said Alfreida Bowman, a Delta Kappa Gamma member who helped spearhead the book bag program.

Catawba County has two Delta Kappa Gamma chapters, which divided after the group's membership continually expanded. The Gamma Phi chapter has about 60 members and is comprised of current and retired educators.

Bowman and her committee, Nancy McGhee, Sarah Simmons, Cindy Boger and Maria Ballard, stock up on school supplies during sale periods, organize the supplies and pack them into age-appropriate book bags.

The bags are designed to have everything that new students need to participate during their first day of class, whether they're in elementary, middle or high school.

"It's hard for a student to come into a new school, especially in the middle of the year," Bowman said. "It's one less thing that they have to worry about."

Bowman and her team pack and organize about 150-200 book bags a year to distribute among the county's elementary, middle and high schools. Each school gets at least two bags at the start of the year, and some schools get more based on need. As the school year progresses and other supply needs emerge, the Gamma Phi chapter will re-stock its school supplies and distribute more book bags to schools in need.

Tina Carpenter worked at Hickory City Schools for 30 years before she retired from the system, so she knows how important school supplies are to children who are new to the school.

"Even before the economy was having trouble, it's nice to go into a new school and feel like you belong," Carpenter said.

And students aren't the only people who benefit from the book bags. The teachers, Bowman said, are always grateful for the extra help.

"More than any time in past years, we have families struggling financially," one teacher wrote in a thank-you letter to the Gamma Phi chapter. "Your generosity will ease the burden of school supplies from some of these families."

The project started more than five years ago as a way to encourage reading among needy, under-privileged families. Volunteers from the Gamma Phi chapter took books to laundromats across Catawba County.

"If students can't read, then they're not going to do other things well, like science," Bowman said.

As Gamma Phi members learned about students' need for school supplies throughout the year, the project changed to encompass providing those children with erasers, rulers and colored pencils. The supplies change slightly for higher grade levels and include protractors, graph paper and compasses.

"These will help needy students feel more comfortable as they start back to school," another teacher wrote in a thank-you letter to the Gamma Phi chapter.

The Gamma Phis are already looking to the start of the next school year, and Bowman said the group is thinking about creating a "new teacher kit" for educators who don't have the money to purchase extra supplies for the classroom.

"With budget cuts and the economy the way it is, teachers aren't going to have the things they need," Bowman said.

Call Bowman at (828) 464-5872 to donate supplies or funding to Gamma Phi's book bag program.