By Laura Jester
Jackson County Public Schools is working with the Jackson County Recreation Department to host the first-ever Back to School Bash, a family-focused event from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Cullowhee Recreation Center.
“In my previous experience within other school districts, we did a similar event on a smaller scale,” School Superintendent Dana Ayers said. “I started talking with my leadership team in January about how we can serve our students and families with an event similar to what I experienced before. It simply grew from there.”
The first task was to find groups willing to help with donations for the event.
“We were fortunate because I think every group or entity that we have reached out to and asked for either donations or if they wanted to be part of the event have been more than willing to do so,” Ayers said. “It blossomed over the last several weeks.”
The next hurdle was where to hold the event.
Ayers met with Rusty Ellis, the director of the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department, to figure out the right place.
“He is super accommodating and wanted to be part of the event, so it is a collaborative effort,” Ayers said.
There will be activities for the kids and items will be given to students and families free of charge. Items include book-bags, school supplies, sports physicals, haircuts, clothing, immunizations and school information.
Local organizations have offered to help with activities and items. There are several people who are donating their services to give free haircuts. Big Brothers and Big Sisters will be present and sharing information about low-cost or no-cost after-school programs. JCPS is working with the health department for immunizations.
A meal of hot dogs, chips and drinks will be provided by the school system.
“Everyone who shows up will receive the meal at no cost, whether they are a Jackson County Public School student or family or not,” Ayers said. “We’re not turning anybody away and we recognize that we will probably be handing out school supplies and such to kids that aren’t ours but that’s OK. This is a community service project.”
Many of the school supplies came from donations to the school system’s Stuff the Bus campaign, set up at Walmart in July.
“We have been receiving donations that were dropped off either at Walmart or at the Central Office,” Ayers said. “We reached out to many of our local churches and tasked them with collecting specific items, so we didn’t have 4,000 boxes of crayons. We need 2,000 boxes of crayons, backpacks and notebook paper.”
It has been a true community effort to make this happen, Ayers said.
All of the schools will be present with a tent or table set up to hand out items that represent their school.
There will be free transportation to the event for families from and to Smokey Mountain Elementary and Blue Ridge School.
They plan to either have two buses or vans running from Blue Ridge School and Smokey Mountain Elementary.
The transportation will run continuously from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. with a goal of shuttling every 30 minutes, Ayers said.
“Not everybody wants to give up their Saturday, but the leadership team, principals and assistant principals are so in for this,” she said.
Laura Jester is an intern at The Sylva Herald.