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Worcester elementary students greeted with supply-filled backpacks from UMass Medical School

North Quadrant Support Services partnership eases return to school

Nearly 600 backpacks were distributed to first- through third-grade students at Rice Square, Grafton Street and Union Square elementary schools thanks to the UMass Medical School North Quadrant Support Services partnership with the Worcester Public Schools.

The children were all smiles beneath their masks as they received supplies for the new year. Many had hand-drawn thank you notes to give to Medical School volunteers who handed  filled backpacks to each child on the second day of school.

“They are so excited because these supplies are going to help them have a successful year,” said Rice Square second-grade teacher Jennifer Brunelle. “After the past year-and-a-half, getting them back in school and making sure they have what they need means a lot to all of us.”

The North Quadrant includes some of the city’s most economically challenged neighborhoods. The Medical School established the North Quadrant Support Services program in 2017 with grant funding from the Remillard Family Community Service Fund to address socioeconomic barriers to academic success faced by many of the area’s K–12 students.

Forty percent of Rice Square students are English language learners and most of their families have experienced negative economic impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We try to have as much equity in the school as we can,” said Principal Susan Donahue. “Having backpacks and supplies for every student doesn’t single out students who don’t have access to what they need.”

The backpacks and school supplies were funded by students, faculty and staff who directed their UMassMed Cares charitable campaign donations to North Quadrant Support Services. Student volunteers from all three schools assisted members of the Office of Community and Government Relations in packing the backpacks for delivery to the schools.

“If we’ve learned anything over the last year plus, it is that there are a lot of societal inequities that have only been amplified and magnified by COVID,” said Ché Anderson, assistant vice chancellor for city and community relations at the Medical School. “Having the ability and the opportunity to provide young people necessities to start the school year on the right foot is the sort of true partnership that we value.”

North Quadrant Support Services has built on the Worcester Pipeline Collaborative, a decades-long academic partnership between the Medical School and the North Quadrant. In addition to assembling backpacks, Medical School students have opportunities throughout the year to engage in the North Quadrant by volunteering or providing donations. Activities include tutoring, participating in the Working for Worcester Build Day and the UMMS Day of Service, and restocking the food pantry established by the initiative at North High School.

“It’s important to me because I went to Worcester Public Schools and I tutor there,” said Burncoat High School graduate Cindy Le, SOM ’23, who was on hand to assemble backpacks. “You need the basics to get your education, so that’s why we’re doing this.”

Among the items tucked in each backpack is an Emma RNA versus Spike Man coloring comic book designed by the Medical School’s ScienceLIVE program to spark kids’ interest in science.

“Our students always step up,” said John Erwin, vice chancellor for community and government relations. “It’s one more way to connect the medical students to the community.”

Related stories on UMassMed News:
UMass Medical School providing aid to Worcester Public Schools summer learning program
LISTEN: UMass Medical School partnership with Worcester schools benefits students
Worcester Public Schools and UMass Medical School unveil family support services initiative