More than 2,300 K-12 students in Western PA will start school this year with brand-new backpacks and school supplies thanks to Gear for Grades, a partnership between Citizens Bank and Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF) to meet the academic needs of children experiencing homelessness. The backpacks, containing brand-new school supplies collected year-round through generous donations, traveled via three school buses on Monday, August 20 to HCEF’s partnering homeless provider agencies throughout the county. Monroeville Mall and CBL and Associates Properties, Inc. was part of the collection effort again this year by accumulating more than $10,000 worth of school supplies during their back-to-school supply drive that took place from July 1 – August 12, 2012. (For a photo story of Gear for Grades 2012, visit HCEF’s website: http://www.homelessfund.org/geargrades12). In addition to the backpack distribution, HCEF has encouraged the academic success of the children it serves in partnering agencies through its Customized Accelerated Programs for Education (CAPE). These inspiring workshops stimulated the children’s learning potential over the summer with fun activities, some including digital animation with the Schmutz Company, art therapy through Art Expressions, and scientific experiments through LabRatz Science Club. HCEF also partnered with Bridge to Independence and Sojourner House MOMS to coordinate various summer camps that incorporated exciting and engaging activities for children and youth experiencing homelessness. During the 2012-13 school year, HCEF plans to pilot a redesigned evaluation system for the Building Blocks for Success afterschool program in its partnering agencies. The evaluation will help better determine what the needs of the students are and what HCEF can do to improve upon the tutoring program to promote further academic success. It’s a new school year and a fresh start, and even as these children head back to school to join their peers, HCEF’s work on their behalf will continue throughout the year! To learn more about HCEF’s educational work, please visit our website at www.homelessfund.org/ourwork.