Back-to-school season is in full swing. Store displays are packed with brightly-colored backpacks, the familiar smell of crayons and notebook paper fills the air.
“It’s an exciting time of year,” said Judy Kimeldorf, a former middle school teacher who has volunteered with the Little Red Schoolhouse Project in Thurston County since 2007.
But when it comes to one important aspect of back-to-school preparation — school-required immunizations — Thurston County lags behind most of the state.
According to recent data from the Washington State Department of Health, 13.3 percent of Thurston County students grades K-12 who were not exempt from receiving vaccinations did not meet school-entry immunization requirements for their age at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. Throughout the state, that number is just 7.4 percent.
Students can be on “conditional” status — meaning they are missing one or more required vaccinations on the first day of the school year — for 30 days. They must receive or begin a series of required vaccinations, show a record of past vaccination, or obtain an exemption within that time period or risk being excluded from school.
“The reason that it’s required is for that immunity within the schools, to keep all of our kids within the school system safe and healthy,” said Jennifer Dixon, emergency preparedness program assistant for Thurston County Public Health and Social Services.
In an effort to get more kids in Thurston County fully immunized before school starts, the Little Red Schoolhouse Project will partner with Thurston County Health and the Thurston County Medical Reserve Corps to provide all school-required immunizations at no cost at this year’s Aug. 17 school supply Distribution Day.
The immunization clinic is the first in the event’s 26-year history.
The thousands of children who attend Distribution Day each year receive donated backpacks, school supplies and lightly-used coats — essential school items that families in need often struggle to afford.
“It costs a great deal of money to send a child to school today,” Kimeldorf said.
Immunizations also can be less accessible for low-income families, who are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured and unable to see a primary health provider on a regular basis, according to Dixon, who helped organize the clinic. She said a lack of transportation also can be a barrier to receiving immunizations.
Dixon said that for families who already attend Distribution Day, a clinic at the same location could make it more convenient to receive required vaccines.
“They can come to something like this and still have those immunizations and have their kids protected but not have to pay that expense,” Dixon said. “Having everything in one place I think would definitely be a draw to stop on by.”
Distribution Day is open to any children enrolled in Thurston County schools — no proof of need is required. However, kids must be accompanied by an adult to receive school supplies and by a parent or legal guardian to receive immunizations. Bring the student’s immunization records if available.
Kimeldorf said that even in the August heat, kids who come to Distribution Day walk away wearing their new winter coats and backpacks, and a little more excited for the school year.
“It makes anticipating school starting kind of fun,” Kimeldorf said. “It gives them a chance to have some of that joy, too.”
Little Red Schoolhouse Distribution Day
Distribution Day will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at Komachin Middle School in Lacey. Thousands are expected to attend, so plan to spend several hours there. Camping overnight is not allowed. The immunization clinic, which is open to students entering preschool through age 18, will close at 4 p.m.
How to donate
For those interested in donating school supplies and clothes, Mixx 96.1 FM will hold a Live Radio Day on the corner of State and Washington from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 11. Donations of school supplies, coats, checks or cash will be accepted, and any contributing businesses or offices will be thanked on the air.
Supplies also can be dropped off at all O Bee Credit Union and Heritage Bank locations and at Capital City Storage through the second week of August. Checks can always be sent to Little Red Schoolhouse Project, PO Box 6302, Olympia, WA 98507.
This year’s most-needed supplies are graph paper, Crayola crayons, colored markers, colored pencils, rulers, scientific and regular calculators, new backpacks and cash donations, which allow the Little Red Schoolhouse to save money by buying in bulk.
How to volunteer
To volunteer with the Little Red Schoolhouse, call the Community Action Council at 360-438-1100 or email LRS@redschool.org.