|By Paula Canning|
HOLYOKE For many students, the start of the school year is marked by anticipation for the infamous back-to-school shopping for a new back-pack, notebook, pens and pencils, and any other school supplies necessary for the classroom.
But for those less fortunate, preparing for the school year can be more of a challenge an obstacle that a teacher and a group of students at Holyoke High School have been helping disadvantaged students in the area to overcome for the past four years.
Led by their Spanish teacher, Judy Falcetti, head of the Foreign Language Department at Holyoke High School, members of the Spanish Club have been collecting backpacks, along with a variety of other school supplies, that they are giving to students across the city.
The Club hosted this year's drive at the high school on Monday and Tuesday night, and also on Tuesday and Thursday morning of last week.
According to Falcetti, over the past four years, the fund-raiser has managed to put over 1,000 backpacks in the in the hands of students city-wide, along with countless pens, papers, notebooks, binders and other school supplies.
"I have the philosophy that kids need to be ready for school," said Falcetti.
She explained that if a student is prepared with the proper school supplies, it paves the way for success in the classroom.
"I think a student has a better chance of being successful academically if they're prepared and not feeling like they're starting from behind the eightball," she said. "They [have] to be ready to face the day."
As an educator, she said she understands that "the bottom line in education is success."
And, according to Falcetti, having the proper school supplies does more than help students succeed in the classroom it also helps to keep economically disadvantaged students from feeling set apart from their classmates.
Falcetti said she tries to hunt out the name brand items at bargain prices, so that the students can walk the halls with the same types of backpacks as their peers.
"It makes them feel they're just like everyone else," she said. "That's important."
According to Falcetti, many students may come to class unprepared, but the fault does not always lie with the students.
"There are some students who aren't prepared for school, and it's not that they don't want to be, it's that they can't be," she said.
She explained that some families are not financially able to purchase back-to-school supplies, or do not uphold classroom preparation as a priority.
"Whatever the reasons, the children end up being the victims," she said. "It's not their fault."
The Spanish Club works with many of the city's organizations and shelters to determine which children from kindergarten age to college are in need of a backpack or other school supplies.
Some of these organizations include the Salvation Army, Girls Inc. and the Holyoke Head Start program.
Since this year's drive began, Falcetti said the Club has already donated 68 backpacks to the Family Place Shelter on Elm Street.
Falcetti explained that, when the Club receives a monetary contribution, she proceeds to go to the store to buy the school supplies.
"I can tell you where every sale on the planet is," Falcetti said.
She said that most backpacks she purchases are in the $6.99 to $15 range, depending on whether or not there is a sale.
Although this years drive isn't bringing in as many backpacks and supplies as in previous years, Falcetti said that the amount of monetary donations has increased this year.
Some of these contributors include Hamel's Creative Catering of Holyoke, Ross Insurance Agency, also of Holyoke, as well as law offices from Springfield,
Not all of the Spanish Club members take part in the drive, especially because it fall during the summer months, however, Falcetti said the majority of the students from the Club volunteer their time to help out at the collection.
"They really love it," she said.
She explained that she tries to instill the importance of civic responsibility upon the members of the Club.
"I tell them, 'they have to have a cause something to make a little difference in someone else's life'," she said.
And for Mary Curtin, a Holyoke High School senior who has been taking part in the drive for the past two years, knowing you're making a difference in someone's life is what it's all about.
"When people come and are able to get the stuff they need, it makes you feel really accomplished," she said.
She added that donating her time is particularly gratifying because those at the receiving end are "always so thankful."
Curtin said she hopes that the drive will continue well into the future.
"It helps out so many people and we get more and more people coming each year, so I hope [the school] keeps doing it," she said.
Falcetti, a teacher for the past 32 years who is looking to retire in three years, said she is also hoping that someone will assume responsibility for the fund-raiser and that the drive will continue.
"I really hope that someone will take control and continue this," she said.
The collection outside of the high school has ended, but the Club is still welcoming school supplies or financial contributions, which can be brought to the high school.
Checks can be made out to the Holyoke High School Spanish Club.
Used backpacks and supplies will be accepted, but new items are preferred.
Any Holyoke parent wishing to obtain a backpack or other school supplies for their child can contact their child's school guidance councilor, who will then contact Falcetti.
For more information, Holyoke High School can be reached at (413) 534-2020.