Calvin Coolidge Elementary School celebrates the arrival of Enchanted Backpack

Second-grade teacher Elizabeth Capizzano applies for and receives $20,000 grant of school supplies

by Jennifer Yos

LANSING, Ill. (January 19, 2020) – The anticipation at Calvin Coolidge Elementary School on Thursday morning, January 16, was exhilarating. Fifth-grade students lined both sides of the main hallway with colorfully handmade thank-you posters, singing and signing the words to the song “One Small Voice,” while other students, teachers, administrators, staff, and special guests from School District 158 and the Village of Lansing poured into the school gymnasium. The celebration about to commence had been well-planned as a way to show appreciation for Enchanted Backpack, a nonprofit organization that was about to deliver a generous gift of $20,000 worth of school supplies in two “magical mystical” vans to Coolidge.

The gymnasium at Calvin Coolidge Elementary School was packed with grateful students on Thursday, January 16. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)
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When the two Enchanted Backpack vans backed up to the school entrance, the van drivers and District 158 custodial staff sprang into action, moving a seemingly endless convoy of boxes and bags of school supplies on carts and dollies into the school and down the main hallway to the gymnasium.

Lansing District 158 custodial staff members streamlined the movement of $20,000 worth of school supplies from two Enchanted Backpack vans outside to the Coolidge School gymnasium. Providing that help was a requirement of the grant. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

Once the school supplies were unloaded and displayed on the gym stage, the celebration began. Principal Pam Hodgson spoke of the school’s gratitude for Enchanted Backpack and for second-grade teacher Mrs. Elizabeth Capizzano, who had approached her about applying for the program shortly after Capizzano was hired last summer.

PAID MESSAGE FROM AN ADVERTISING MEMBER —
Principal Pam Hodgson shakes the hands of Enchanted Backpack staff members, who were very impressed with how organized and enthusiastic their reception was. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)
Elizabeth Capizzano (seated with her second-grade class) waves to acknowledge applause for her efforts in securing the grant. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

District Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling also spoke, sharing a quote from President Calvin Coolidge, the school’s namesake, who once counseled Americans to “cherish peace and good will.” The Enchanted Backpack program, he concluded, was a fine example of good will, having provided supplies to 119 Chicagoland schools in the past year, with Coolidge being number 120.

After the speeches, students from kindergarten through fifth grade enthusiastically performed songs and dances. The highlight and conclusion of the celebration was when the teaching staff took the center floor in a “flash mob” dance to express their appreciation for Enchanted Backpack’s support.

While Coolidge Elementary students displayed handmade posters of gratitude for Enchanted Backpack, Mayor Patty Eidam (center) joined teachers and staff members in performing a high-stepping celebratory “flash mob” dance. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

Enchanted Backpack’s back story

Enchanted Backpack is a Chicago-based charitable organization founded in 2017 by Carol Lavin Bernick, in conjunction with the Lavin and Bernick families. Before entering the world of nonprofits, Carol Lavin Bernick spent 37 years in key executive roles within her father’s Alberto-Culver Corporation—the successful hair and skin beauty product manufacturer of popular brands like Alberto VO5 shampoo. The corporation was sold to Unilever in 2011, and Carol Lavin Bernick decided to turn her energies to supporting schools when her daughter was a teacher at a Title One school in Oak Park.

Title One schools have high percentages of students from low-income families. Realizing the great needs of her daughter’s underfunded school, and witnessing how many of her daughter’s teacher friends were spending their own money to supplement classroom supplies, Bernick decided to create Enchanted Backpack to support under-resourced elementary and middle schools in the Chicagoland area.

A letter from the organization to students’ parents explains why they do what they do: “Enchanted Backpack values learning and understands that children need resources in order to do their best and be challenged in positive ways to stretch their minds and imaginations. Education creates opportunities for today’s children to become tomorrow’s leaders, problem-solvers and engaged global citizens. Through our Mobile Van Delivery, we hope to encourage your child to work their hardest and stay engaged in school and their community.”

Two programs

Enchanted Backpack offers two programs to eligible public, private, and charter elementary and middle schools who apply for and gain acceptance into their programs. One program is the Enchanted Backpack Mobile Van Program. The van program delivers school supplies, books, art supplies, incentive items, board games, athletic equipment, and even winter coats, hats and gloves, and personal necessities. Coolidge, as the recipient of $20,000 worth of supplies, is now an Enchanted Backpack partner school.

Coolidge teacher Elizabeth Capizzano applied for the Enchanged Backpack Mobile Van Program and won $20,000 of school supplies, making Coolidge an Enchanted Backpack partner school. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

The second program—Adopt-a-School—is open to Enchanted Backpack partner schools that apply for a second year of support for needs beyond classroom supplies, such as playground equipment, enhanced reading centers, or upgraded technology.

What schools are eligible?

Coolidge was eligible for the Enchanted Backpack program because at the time of application in August of 2019, 63.5% of its student body was eligible for the Free/Reduced Lunch Program. According to enchantedbackpack.org, any public, private, or charter school in the Chicagoland area “may request support from Enchanted Backpack if they are an elementary or middle school (serving any variation of PK-8th grades) with at least 50% of their students eligible for the Free/Reduced Lunch Program.” 

Easy application

Mrs. Elizabeth Capizzano, the second-grade teacher who applied on behalf of Calvin Coolidge Elementary, says the application process is relatively simple compared to other grant applications. She learned about Enchanted Backpack from the school where she had taught previously. With the cooperation of Principal Hodgson, Capizzano filled out a simple two-page application form. (To see the application and details about applying, click on the pdf at https://www.enchantedbackpack.org/for-schools.) Capizzano and Hodgson committed to procuring at least ten teachers who will fill out a survey evaluating the supplies after delivery. An agreement to provide help unloading the vans was also a contractual stipulation. In less than three months after she applied in August, Capizzano received notification of Coolidge’s acceptance into the program.

Distribution

When asked how supplies will be distributed, Capizzano replied, “It’s really up to the principal. How we did it before [at her previous school] and what I kind of suggested is just that it could be based on teacher need. Or we talked about reaching out to the social worker and [helping] students that are in a greater need of supplies, because sometimes there are clothing—winter jackets and shoes—that come in, so looking at those students first with a greater need and then just dividing it equally amongst all the classrooms.”

Elizabeth Capizzano, pictured in her classroom, applied to Enchanted Backpack last summer shortly after she was hired as a second grade teacher at Coolidge Elementary. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

Generous support

Enchanted Backpack programs are possible through the generous support of companies like DSC Logistics; The Bazaar, Inc.; Abt; Forest Security, Inc.; Neal Gerber Eisenberg; and Affordable Moving Co., as well as through private donations. The Lavin Family Foundation generously matches donor contributions up to $1,000,000 annually and covers all administrative costs for the organization so that 100% of donations go directly to support schools. For information about how to donate, go to enchantedbackpack.org.

Enchanted Backpack Staff (first and third from left) pose with (left to right) Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nathan S. Schilling; Director of Curriculum & Assessment Shirley Bragg; Board member Denise Jones Williams; Lansing Mayor Patty Eidam; Teacher Elizabeth Capizzano, Principal Pamela Hodgson, Coolidge’s Cougar mascot, School Board Vice President Suzanne Long, and Director of Student Services Dr. Tanya Carter. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)
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