By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – The Beal Early Childhood Center is one of the six Shrewsbury elementary schools with a program that loans informational backpacks to students to help them with important topics, such as divorce, death and self-esteem.
“The informational backpacks are actual backpacks created for parents, guardians and children to take home,” explained Beal School Nurse Jill Wensky, who has volunteered and worked at the school since 1997. “They are filled with several books for both the adults and the children and tackle some difficult subject matters that deal with death and dying for both people and pets, divorce, sexuality, deployment, self-esteem, safety and more.”
The program was funded by a grant from the Shrewsbury Education Foundation (SEF).
The backpacks are circulated to those who may benefit from taking one home. On any given day, a teacher may come to Wensky and mention that a grandparent is ill or a child’s parents are getting divorced. This gets the “wheels in motion,” Wensky said, to try and get one of these backpacks to go home in a timely manner. The packs are usually signed out for about a week at a time. The feedback has been extremely positive.
“Both Chris Girardi, Beal’s principal, and I have tried to get the word out that these are available,” Wensky noted. “There is a weekly ‘list serve’ that distributes information to the school population. I contribute a weekly article and we periodically remind teachers that the informational backpacks are available. This is a great tool for us to market this program.”
Because a number of students have a parent in the military, the deployment informational backpack has proven to be of great importance at Beal.
“I am hoping to apply to the SEF to get additional deployment backpacks for the rest of our schools, too,” Wensky said.
She recalled an incident where a family had suffered a loss. She called them to offer her condolences and mentioned that the information backpack might be helpful. The family was grateful for this tool and appreciative of how the materials helped during this emotional time.
“I love this community in which I live and work in,” Wensky said. “The informational backpack can truly impact a child and help them to transition through a difficult time. Anything we can do to help get the word out and make people aware that we have these resources benefits everyone. It’s all part of a bigger picture for me.”