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West Valley City Journal

Volunteers help Redwood Elementary students gear up for success in school

Sep 19, 2018 10:10AM ● By Jana Klopsch

One family benefits greatly, as they have three students attending Redwood Elementary for the 2018-2019 school year. (Whitney Cox/City Journals)

By Whitney Cox | [email protected] 

Families lined up at 8 a.m. at Redwood Elementary the Saturday before school started for a highly anticipated and much-needed back-to-school giveaway. Employees at the elementary teamed up with the Granite Education Foundation, Molina Healthcare and other volunteers to provide students in need with school supplies, shoes, immunizations, haircuts, community resources and more. 

“Granite School District is unique in that 65 percent of the students in this whole district are living at or below poverty, so that’s over 40,000 students. Redwood is an extreme case within the district,” said Brooke Porter, communications director at the Granite Education Foundation. 

Jolynn Koehler, the principal at Redwood Elementary, stood at the entrance to the giveaway, welcoming each family by name. “We like to provide a way for them to be able to start the school year with everything that kids need for a good start to a school year,” said Koehler.

This is Koehler’s fourth year as the principal at Redwood. The giveaway has taken a different form each year, but it is a practice that is important to Koehler, the staff at Redwood Elementary, and the families in the community. Koehler knows the demographics of her school include children whose families cannot afford the small things necessary for a successful school year. 

“One of the things I’ve tried to instill for the last three years is that we’re teaching the whole child. We have to not just provide the academics for them. We have to provide ways for them to be able to take care of themselves, and to be able to be happy, and to be able to be successful in life,” said Koehler. 

Koehler understands that shoes, haircuts, and new backpacks are not “essentials” but recognizes the impact they have on each student’s confidence and success in school. “We have data to prove how much of a difference those kinds of things have made,” said Koehler, explaining that Redwood Elementary had one of the lowest attendance rates in the district two years ago. “Last year, we had the fourth highest improvement in attendance in the whole district,” she said. Not coincidentally, the previous year was the first year Redwood partnered with Molina Healthcare for the back-to-school giveaway. 

The importance of the event has been instilled in the hearts of Redwood’s employees.

“I have the best staff in the whole world. We thought Molina wouldn’t be able to help us this year, and they decided to take it on and get started with it anyway, because they knew how important it was. Then the foundation came and helped us, so it has happened because the great staff that I have,” said Koehler. 

Molina Healthcare is a Fortune 500, multi-state health care organization. Molina serves around four million members nationally, and their mission is “to help the underserved population,” said Brandon Hendrickson, president of the Utah/Idaho subsidiary of Molina Healthcare. Molina’s main function is to provide quality healthcare to those who can’t afford it, but they go above and beyond for their members with events like this one. 

“We try to partner with schools that have the need,” said Hendrickson. They help with back-to-school events in the fall, coat and boot giveaways in the winter, other smaller events throughout the year, and the day-to-day medical needs of their members. The back-to-school giveaway is one of the larger events, and many employees at Molina use one of their two paid volunteer days to help with back-to-school events. “Our employees always get really engaged in this event and are willing to give their own money or donate supplies,” said Hendrickson. 

Some years, Molina works with the community to gather supplies, but this year they provided a monetary donation to the Granite Education Foundation, who then purchased the supplies and organized the efforts of community volunteers. 

The Granite Education Foundation works year-round to supply students in the Granite School District with basic needs. “Redwood is an extreme case within the district, but there are students in need across the whole district,” said Porter. The foundation helped organize many back-to-school giveaways, but the event at Redwood was one of the biggest, and the only one Molina partnered with.

Preparation began months in advance for the foundation. Efforts were coordinated between the foundation, Molina, and other community volunteers such as the City Library, the West Valley City Police, the PTA, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and more. And this was only for the event at Redwood Elementary, one of the many back-to-school events that occurred in the district. 

“The opportunity to help give those students the best chance they have at succeeding in school is incredible. We’re grateful for the community who is willing to step up and help. It’s the best to be able to see the kids excited about school, to be hugging the principal and teachers as they come in, and to get a new backpack, to get shoes to be able to start the school year right. It’s worth every effort,” said Porter.