Hartford Back-To-School Book-Bag Tradition Goes Drive-Thru | Connecticut Public Radio

Hartford Back-To-School Book-Bag Tradition Goes Drive-Thru

Aug 13, 2020

For the past five years, the Capitol Region Education Council, or CREC, has handed out about 1,200 book bags to Hartford public school students in preparation for the new school year, but this year the annual block party became a drive-thru.

Aura Alvarado, CREC’s director of community relations and coordinator of the block party, says it was important for families to feel supported regardless of how their children return to school. 

“Depending on how you choose to go back to school, whether you’re going to do distance or going back to the classroom, we want to be there with you all and make sure that the parents have what they need. We’re all as anxious as everybody else, but there was no way we were going to cancel this event, so we made it work by doing this drive-thru,” said Alvarado. 

The drive-thru began on Charter Oak Avenue in Hartford, where families were greeted by volunteers and given transportation information, goody bags and backpacks. 

Troy Wortham welcomes children and families who walked to the drive-thru.
Credit Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public Radio

Fifteen-year-old Kathery Zuniga was excited to see her friends, learn and study, but her mother, Elizabeth Zuniga, says she’s approaching this return to school “with a little fear. But online they hardly learn, they learn more at school. It’s been very difficult. I’m a newcomer to this country, and I don’t know English for them, they learn more in school because of English,” Zuniga said in Spanish. 

Zuniga recently arrived from Honduras, and virtual learning in the spring semester was difficult for her and her children because she doesn’t speak English. She feels her children will be better off in school where they won’t face language barriers. 

While there is a mix of decisions among families, 60% say their children will return to school in person, according to a recent CREC survey. Still, some families are excited to return to school, said Greg Florio, executive director of CREC.

“I think it’s a mix, most people are coming through, they’re very grateful, and most are saying they are very excited about going back to school,” he said. 

In preparation for the school year, CREC has given families options for distance and in-person learning. While some families faced technology obstacles during remote learning in the spring, CREC did provide students with Wi-Fi hot spots and computers.

With 40% of students opting for distance learning for the coming school year, CREC is preparing to welcome about 4,500 students for in-person learning on Aug. 31.