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Mohonasen Central School District greatly expands initiatives to fill low-income student needs

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SCHENECTADY COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — School supplies add up fast. Pile on clothes and food and very soon students suffering through poverty start to go without.

“If you’re hungry, you don’t have clothes that are fashionable and in good repair, and you don’t have supplies, you’re going to be hard-pressed to learn,” explains Mohonasen Central School District Superintendent Shannon Shine.

Shine says he’s seen poverty increase from 13 percent of students in 2001 applying for free and reduced lunches, to now around 46 percent of students registering some form of economic hardship.

“Economic needs often lead to academic needs and our obligation is to meet our students wherever they’re at,” he says.

He stands firm his administration refuses to leave students in need. As they plan next year’s budget, they’ve started to look outside the traditional sources for back to school basics like paper, pencils, and markers — even classroom essentials like batteries.

“Amazon in this case beats state contract. So multiply that over how many batteries we need per month per year, small savings add up to big savings,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

The more they find, the more they can give to students — free of charge.

“You get into the higher math levels, and you need a graphing calculator, a $100 calculator. We had to ask ourselves, is that really in the spirit of providing a free and appropriate public education to students who are increasingly in need? We concluded no, that’s not fair,” Shine says.

They’ve now reworked the budget to give out or loan free calculators to all middle and high school students for the upcoming school year. Shine adds the district has waived lab course fees, after-school tutoring costs, and provided snacks and p.m. bus runs for students who stay late.

“We can put it in the budget to add the bus runs, I can do that, but by statute, I am not allowed to use our budget dollars to provide snacks for after school programs. So then we look at our outside resources through MohonCARES,” he explains.

The MohonCARES initiative, officially set up this past school year, organizes community donations from stores like Stewarts and Price Chopper, to faith organizations like Lutheran Church and Life Church, and even the Girl Scouts. The district’s own teachers also step in to help fill the gap for low-income students.

“I contacted the City Mission and just said, hey we need some jeans here at Mohonasen, and all of a sudden we got some jeans. Then we shot some emails out to teachers, hey we need some T-shirts, we need shoes, and then we got everything that we could possibly get for free and that’s how we started the Anchor Room,” says teacher Faith Rorick.

Rorick has made it a tradition to wear the same outfit every day of the school year. Proving a point is how she first got the inspiration for the Anchor Room.

“There was a student who was getting made fun of for wearing jeans, the same jeans, every single day. So it kind of spawned out of that, because I had said well I can wear the same clothes every day. It doesn’t matter what you wear,” she explains. “My students all said no way, you won’t do it. So then I said I can do it for a month and ended up finding a way to do it all year.”

The Anchor Room gathers supplies, clothes, shoes, and hygiene products donated to the school district. Any student, in need or not, can come browse the racks.

“Every time I have a free period or study hall, sometimes my friends and I will go there and we look at all the stuff they have,” says 11th grade student Luisanna Cruz Diaz.

“We’re changing the conversation and the stigma on, oh you have to be poor shop secondhand. No, the Anchor Room is awesome and anyone can come here and find some amazing things,” says Rorick.

“I’m so excited when I walk down the hall and I see empty hangers or I see spots missing from where we had the shoes in the hallway. I mean it’s like an exciting feeling knowing, oh my gosh we were able to help somebody,” says Angie Lasher, a special ed teacher who helped to greatly expand the Anchor Room location and donations.

Lasher also brings her students into the room to further their education.

“We are teaching them customer service skills, so they also approach the students that come in and help them,” she explains.

“I pick it out for them, hand it to them and tell them have a good day. Like enjoy,” says 10th grade special ed student Matthew Small.

“I care about people, because if they don’t have anything they really need it,” says special ed senior Skylar Pettit.

There’s now an Anchor Room in every Mohonasen Central School District school. It’s also expanded this year to provide prom dresses and essentials for young women at the high school.

“We’ve had students break down emotionally. It’s joyful when they can fit in just like everybody else,” Shine says.

He adds the ultimate goal is to completely eliminate back to school shopping for students in need.

“Basically bring everything together. How can we meet the needs of our students? That’s the mission,” he says.

Find out more about MohonCARES and how you can donate here.

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