By STEVEN NALLEY
The Excel By 5 Oktibbeha County Coalition will hold its annual Back to School Bash and Health Fair Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Starkville Sportsplex, bringing together more than 50 organizations and service groups to help parents and students prepare for a new school year.
The event is free and open to the public, Ellen Goodman, Oktibbeha County Excel By 5 certification manager, said, and so are the health screenings available: oral health, blood pressure, blood sugar, hearing, height and weight. Free school supplies will also be available, she said.
“We appreciate our health care professionals giving up their Saturday to provide (health screenings) to our families,” Goodman said. “We will have those general school supplies that all children need no matter the age. Not knowing the specific ages of children who will be attending, we need to have general supplies available that all can use. Different community agencies and businesses have provided door prizes as well.”
Joan Butler, coalition member and Starkville School District Family Centered Programs director, said the event represents Excel By 5’s best effort to bring together all of the county’s resources for children. She said she is grateful for the support from all the organizations involved.
“I think that it’s so meaningful that all the community... comes together to provide support for the sendoff for children who are starting school in August,” Butler said. “We all have a common shared interest, but we all do something different to contribute to that particular investment in youth.”
Goodman said the $10,000 the Starkville Kiwanis Club donated to the coalition a few weeks ago is helping to fund materials the coalition will make available to families at the event. Emerson Family Resource Center is also helping the coalition prepare, she said, and other organizations who have invested materials or funding in the event include the Nick Bell Foundation and Safe Schools/Healthy Students.
“The Back to School Bash and Health Fair is one of our required Excel By 5 annual community events,” Goodman said. “It is a time for local health professionals to be present in one location for families to have screenings and gain valuable information. Various community organizations and agencies will be present to share how they can be a support to our families. Local schools will provide vital information to families regarding the start up of the new school year.”
The coalition has sponsored the Back to School Bash since 2010, Goodman said, but the Emerson Family Resource Center has sponsored it for many years before that. She said the event typically draws strong attendance.
“At the 2011 Back to School Bash and Health Fair,” Goodman said, “we had over 1,000 community members present.”
Butler said the coalition has also completed all activities necessary to attain Excel By 5 certification, culminating a two-year effort to better prepare Oktibbeha County’s children for kindergarten by implementing community events, parenting programs and other initiatives. A celebration of the milestone is planned, Butler said, but the date is not firm.
“We’re very excited to say we are just waiting to receive our certificate from the state office,” Butler said. “We are waiting to hear the final word on it. That’s the reason we can’t set our date, because we don’t know how long it will take for them to process it. We’re hoping for August, and the latest will be September.”