Superintendent in the Jal Public Schools Brian Snider figures families typically pay $200 or more at this time of year to stock their children up on school supplies.
But, this year, the families of Jal Elementary will get a break on that annual expense, courtesy of the staff of Jal Medical Clinic in town.
Clinic staff are supplying everything students will need — from pencils to pencil boxes, markers, paper and more — from the standard school supply list for Jal Elementary students to start the school year right.
Community service is nothing new to clinic staff, said Clinic Administrator Carolynn Swain. Curtailed recently by COVID-19, the three nurse practitioners, nurses and support staff are jumping back into their desire to give back to the community they serve in a big way, she said.
“We enjoy doing things for the community,” Swain told the News-Sun. “This is kind of a new, different kind of thing we’ve never done before. We’re excited about it.”
It’s typical for the staff at Jal Medical Clinic to come up with different ideas to help out in the community beyond their normal charge as medical providers. It’s something they’ve been doing for years, Swain said, only stopping when the governor’s statewide COVID-19 restrictions closed down many local, in person activities.
In June, for example, the clinic staff supplied containers and supplies to help members of a new Girl Scout troop being formed in the community as they worked toward their first badge — creating a first aid kit.
“We try to do as much as we can,” Swain said. “We’ve been for years doing different things.
“We go to the schools and do physicals,” she said. “We charge nothing for the students who are going to play sports the next year. Service to the community, that’s what we’re here for.”
Snider said he, too, was excited when clinic staff approached him about donating school supplies to the elementary students to go along with the new transparent backpacks the district will be providing to fulfill a new requirement for students in the district.
The district announced its plan to require the clear backpacks for all students in June. The reasoning behind the decision to switch to see-through backpacks was two-fold. Jal Schools administrators were mainly reacting to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in New Mexico for adults earlier this year. Teachers and staff being able to see what’s inside a backpack immediately would remove one potential hiding place for drugs, Snider said.
But the decision was also partly in response to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Snider said.
And so far, response from parents to the new requirement has been positive.
“It’s sad but it’s our reality,” he said. “When you live it every day, you want to make sure you protect those kids, no matter what.
“We don’t want to give freedoms away in the name of protection or safety,” Snider said. “But we do want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to be sure (our) kids are as safe as they can be.”
About 300 students in the elementary school will be receiving school supplies gratis this year, he said.
“They’re buying from the (supplies) list we usually put out to parents,” Snider said. “Costs of everything has gone up so much recently, we figured that would be a really good thing (for the clinic staff) to help out with.”
About 15 percent of Jal students annually would qualify for free or reduced lunches, one indicator used to determine families in the district who face financial hardship, Snider said. Students sometimes don’t come to school on the first day with all the supplies they need because their families can’t afford to buy everything from the supplies list at once. That puts them at a distinct disadvantage, he said.
“A lot of times, if they can’t afford it or they don’t get the same supplies other children do, they have a disadvantage from day one — not being prepared for school,” Snider said. “There are some that will buy (supplies) a little bit at a time, when they can afford to.
“It’s not their fault, it’s nothing the child can control,” he said. “This puts them on equal ground with school supplies.”
In addition to pencils, paper and notebooks, Jal Clinic will supply sanitizing wipes, tissues — literally everything from the school supply lists teachers put together annually, depending on the needs of their specific classes.
“We’re buying headphones for each student,” Swain said. “That way, when they’re working on their (computers), they won’t be disturbed by other noises around them.”
Supplies are currently on order, Swain said. When they arrive — hopefully in time for the first day of school — clinic staff and other volunteers will transport the supplies to the elementary school, where they will work with teachers to assemble the educational care packages, she said.
Swain said she did not know what the final cost of supplies will be, but it didn’t matter. Worrying about the expense to the clinic wasn’t a factor in the decision to provide the school supplies.
“We just like to do things that are a service to our community,” she said. “We’re really excited this is something we could do this year.
“Basically, that’s our mission — to provide the best medical and dental care we can to our community and also to uplift our community in any way we can,” Swain said. “That’s why we’re here. For the community. We want to give back to those who allow us the opportunity to serve.”