Backpack Drive 2019 - M. Lynn Bennion Elementary School

Donations:

·         Backpacks

·         School supplies (#2 pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, crayons, colored pencils, rulers, folders, wide-ruled subject notebooks)

·         Water bottles 

·         Cash/check for purchase of backpacks and supplies

St. Paul's Backpack drive opens Sunday, August 11, and continues through Sunday, Sept. 8. Please bring your donations to St. Paul’s office during posted hours or to any of the Saturday and Sunday services. A wood box on wheels is marked for donations.

Why Bennion?

There’s a good feeling about M. Lynn Bennion Elementary School.

A hallway mural trumpets sea life, prehistoric mammals, and Horton the elephant perched on a flower. A bulletin board pinned with pictures of places the students dream about going, like Disneyland, visiting an aunt, or someplace warm when the weather turns cold.

Students’ names are penciled on paper ice cream cones. There is lunch out with the principal, and, also, W-O-W awards designating classrooms boasting perfect attendance.

“We celebrate success,” said Principal Dahlia Cordova. “We provide a lot of positives.”

And for a large percentage of the students, the time to encourage that pride is fleeting.

M. Lynn Bennion Elementary School, 800 East 429 South, a Title I School in the Salt Lake City School District serves a population of which 98 percent live below the poverty level. Some begin their school year immersed in classes to learn the English language, a majority arrive behind in skills required at age-related grade levels. Many students don’t make it through the entire school year, transferring schools and districts as often as their families move through the city’s temporary housing system.

This year, our drive will benefit M. Lynn Bennion Elementary School, 800 East 429 South, a Title I School in the Salt Lake City School District. Bennion's current enrollment is approximately 200 students — 65 percent who are minorities, 24 percent who are homeless, 37 percent who are English learners, and 98 percent who receive free or reduced-price school lunch. The school serves children who live at the YWCA's crisis shelter and its transitional housing program.

Principal Dahlia Cordova will distribute the donated packs and supplies. The school's need doesn't end at the start of the school year, but continues throughout the year with students from the YWCA temporary housing program.

No matter how long or short a student’s stay, Cordova emphasizes a welcoming environment that concentrates on the concepts of believing, achieving, and succeeding. Encouraging a student’s individual progress is central to the philosophy through a seemingly inexhaustive supply of confidence-building programs.

Cordova’s office and school rooms lining the halls reflect the staff’s shared determination. Tokens given for everything from earning high marks to showing extra kindness to fellow students are “cashed in” for treats, school supplies, and stickers. Community circles within each class strengthens bonds between students and teachers. An annual carnival celebrates achievements and heralds the optimism of a coming school year.

This past year was almost the school’s late. The Salt Lake City School District nearly closed the school due to decreasing enrollment (220 students on average, down from a 300-student capacity), relatively high-fixed costs, and the shifting demographics of its population.

The recommendation smacked against the very reason the school must stay open.

The elementary school’s namesake, M. Lynn Bennion, was a Salt Lake City School District Superintendent known for his drive to encourage and embrace students of diverse cultural backgrounds. Current enrollment shows that 65 percent of the students are of color, 23 percent of are homeless, and 37 percent are English learners. The school has developed a trusted relationship with the YWCA’s crisis and transitional housing shelter.

Community leaders came to the defense, voicing strong support for the school’s unique qualities, and the risk closure would present to an already vulnerable population.

Cordova didn’t skip a beat through a process that could disrupt the neighborhood she has served for the past seven years.

“We’ve worked really hard to take students where they’re at and give them the skills to move on,” she said. “It’s students first and that’s where we stay focused.”

Christine Fraizer