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Dallas' Back To School Fair Serves 40,000

Bill Zeeble

Some 40,000 people packed Fair Park’s two huge halls Thursday for free school supplies, health checks, hair cuts and more. 

For qualified, low-income families, Fair Park’s annual six-hour school fair is a big deal. Just ask Margie Martinez or Nicole Hamilton. Both showed up for the first time, each with their three young children.

"Especially when you have three kids, where each one is $80-100 for each one. To pay, here, it’s free," Martinez said.

"They did the dental exam, they were good. No cavities. Now I’m off to the school supply building," Hamilton added.

Pay-offs from school fairs like this and others scheduled later this month in North Texas don’t just come from getting needed items for nothing. Donated school supplies and services like vaccinations or dental checks directly impact learning.

Dr. Dan Jones, Baylor School of Dentistry: One of the leading reasons for school absences is oral problems, toothaches.

Doctor Dan Jones is here with volunteers from Baylor’s College of Dentistry. Students and parents can get free cavity prevention treatments and a basic check up.

"You can imagine, if you’ve ever had a toothache or really bad headache and you were having to take an exam or do homework, how difficult that would be," he said.

Jones says Baylor works with the state’s biggest non-profit dental provider to treat low-income students. Texans already claim the nation’s largest percentage of uninsured residents. In Dallas, Jones says that amounts to at least 100,000 children. And for every one child without health insurance, he says roughly three lack dental insurance.

Basic school supplies are also essential for learning, even though that may seem obvious. Janet Morrison, with Dallas’ non-profit City Square, explains what’s not so obvious when low-income students arrive at school with their own pencils and notebooks.

Morrison: Of course you’ve got kids who don’t have the tools they need to learn. That’s kind of, for a kid, it’s kind of embarrassing. You get there and the teachers consistently say “Hey! You need your school supplies.” So what’s a kid do? They’re kids. They can’t go out and work for these school supplies and get what they need.

Morrison, who used to run City Square’s after school programs, says basic supplies can also spark a child’s natural creativity.

"It’s not just in the classroom. I know I took stuff home with me. You know, I may draw at home, or take a ruler and practice geometry and stuff at home. I mean kids are ingenious in some of the stuff that they do," Morrison said.

Teachers say the better prepared students are for the first day of school, the better their odds for success.

Upcoming fairs:

Tarrant County: Wednesday, August 8

Southeast Denton: Saturday, August 13

Apple Tree Project, Denton: ongoing

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.