Despite Classroom Uncertainties, School Supplies are Critical

   By Joshua Arce

It is the question on every parent’s mind – when and how is my child going back to school? The answer varies across states, communities and districts as school officials are working to navigate the safest course of action for their students. And while the immediate plan is unclear, one thing is certain: education for every child is critical.

The average cost of school supplies per child in the U.S. is $789 this year, and part of the increase is factoring in PPE for students, such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Many parents are also investing in laptops and tablets to support distance learning. Unfortunately, almost two-thirds of Native American children on the reservations are living in impoverished or low-income households and needs like these present barriers to education.

PWNA’s American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program has provided school supplies to Pre-K through grade 12 students across the Southwest and Northern Plains for decades – as part of its annual Backpack Drive. This year is no exception and PWNA is hoping to deliver supplies to at least 15,000 Native American students.

While unemployment
continues to rise across the U.S., it’s still nowhere near the unemployment
rates within the communities PWNA serves (35-85%, depending on the
reservation). Incomes are often restricted for Native American families and,
for many, even basic school supplies are a luxury that can’t always be
afforded. Not to mention the challenges to physically access school supplies
given the remoteness of some reservation communities and the current travel
restrictions in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

One PWNA partner and teacher, Deborah from the Northern Plains, recalls a grandmother who called a week before school started last year. She was concerned her five grandchildren could not start school on time as she could not afford their school supplies. When Deborah assured her that the children would not have to wait, thanks to the AIEF school supplies, she was so relieved.  

With support from caring donors, PWNA hopes to bring much-needed relief to families like these who so often must choose between feeding their families and shopping for back to school. To learn more and contribute to our Backpack Drive, visit

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