With the first day of school in Dallas a little more than three weeks away, thousands of kids and their parents flocked to the city’s annual Mayor's Back to School Fair today. They were lured to Fair Park by free backpacks (filled with supplies), health checks, and a good time.
It’s almost 9am, barely an hour since the doors opened, and Latamira Dean’s already done. Here before sunrise, the seasoned school-fair mom’s lugging a box of goodies for her six children.
“Oh wow, it’s so amazing,” Dean says. “They have these amazing books, notebooks, pencils, erasers, just a lot of knik-knaks that just help. I got here at 5 o’clock in the morning, and last year I came at 8:00 and I promise you I was way in the back and it took about three hours.”
Free supplies make a difference, says Dean, especially if you miss the Walmart sale. She says everything will get used in a house full of students. She’s in nursing school, at El Centro. Today, her husband’s at home with the kids, ages four to thirteen.
“I would’ve brought them, ‘cause they do haircuts and everything,” Dean says. “But their uncle cut their hair last week. It really takes a family.”
The Bacerra family would agree, even if it’s not as large.
“It helps us economically,” Arely Bacerra says, “and the kids enjoy coming here and, well, we have fun!”
Arely Bacerra may sound like a mom, but she’s the 15 year–old daughter here with her mother who does not speak English. So when she says the kids enjoy coming here, she’s talking about herself and her little sister Jennifer.
“This is our 3rd year,” Arely says. “But last year we didn’t come because we had forgotten about the ‘come back to school fair.’ She’s a single mom. So I guess it was hard for her.”
Markeisha Jenkins knows about moms with hard jobs. She says that describes her sister with her large family.
“She needs help with all these children. They’re my babies, all of them,” Markeisha says, though not literally. “All seven.”
Markeisha’s sister, Shonquedria, counts down all her kids.
“I have an 8 year old,” Shonquedria says, “two 7 year-olds, a 6 year-old, a 4 year-old, no two 4 year-olds, and a 1 year-old.”
Jenkins, her sister and kids are in a long line for vision tests. The mom, who’s also enrolled in computer technology classes, is grateful for the school fair.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Shonquedria says. “It helps, when you, you know, need help.”
Billy Rice is here because he needs help. The father of six says times have been tough, financially. But he’s not sure the school fair’s a good fit for him. Neither is his 14 year-old son Elijah, his blue braces shining when he smiles.
”So I figured we would try it,” Billy says. “I waited in line to get here ahead of time. I don’t think it was worth it. I just think for what you get, you know, you can find other ways to pay for it.”
Billy’s son Elijah was more blunt. “I don’t like it,” he said. “I woke up at 7. I’m not happy.”
Under cool, cloudy skies, though, the 35,000 who showed up this year were probably happy enough, if only because of the most tolerable weather the Back to School Fair has seen in years. In fact, unlike past fairs, there were no heat related incidents.
Tarrant County’s Back to School Roundup is next Wednesday, August 6, from 8am to 2pm at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. It’s only open to families who pre-registered.