TAMPA, Fla. — Assisting students and families was the goal of the Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) transportation department’s first back-to-school fair.
The event, held at the Tampa-based district’s main transportation site on Aug. 5, promoted healthy and safe modes of transportation and encouraged school readiness, parental involvement, and community interaction.
With the support of several community sponsors, more than 500 backpacks filled with school supplies were distributed to Hillsborough students who attended the fair.
“The support we received from the community, local businesses, and employees was amazing,” said Paula Riddle, an HCPS transportation call center representative. “We placed buses in strategic locations throughout the county in hopes of receiving enough donations to stuff 250 book bags for our back-to-school event. … Not only did we reach our goal, but we doubled that amount.”
Rod Carter, a WFLA anchor and reporter, served as master of ceremonies for the back-to-school bash, which kicked off with a presentation of colors by transportation’s honor guard, followed by the national anthem.
“Watching the smiles on so many children’s faces and the relieved, happy look on parents’ faces was wonderful to see,” Carter said. Along with back-to-school goodies and free physicals, the event included dancing with the “Bust a Move for Body & Mind” program offered by the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. Also, a number of local businesses, organizations, and social service agencies offered information and resources.
“We know that the back-to-school period is challenging for many, including our own transportation employees who have children attending schools, so the purpose of this fair was to provide some assistance to our community and our transportation families,” said Alexcia Wiggins, HCPS transportation supervisor of routing and planning and co-chair of the back-to-school committee.
Jeff Eakins, superintendent of the school district, said that the supply drive “demonstrates just another way our transportation staff makes a huge difference in our students’ lives.”
The back-to-school fair also offered free snow cones, popcorn, and kid-friendly sponsored activities, including a bounce house, a bus derby, a building workshop, and a bike/pedestrian safety rodeo.
“Our employees were inspired by our thoughtful HCPS leaders and community supporters,” said Jim Beekman, the district’s general manager of transportation services. “Transportation is [proud] that we came together to make a difference.”
Hillsborough County Public Schools transports 85,000 students daily with 883 route buses. The district is ranked No. 18 in School Bus Fleet's Top 100 School District Fleets list for 2017, which will appear in the upcoming October issue of the magazine.
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