Thousands attend Prince George’s County Back to School fair


The line for free backpacks circled around the Showplace Arena during the Prince George’s County Back to School Fair on Aug. 9. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

See old friends from class. Talk to some former teachers. Maybe even pick up a free backpack.

Those were some of the things on Paige Blake’s agenda as she spent a couple of hours with her dad, Randolph, at the Prince George’s County Back to School Fair on Saturday at the Showplace Arena.

But there they were, standing in front of a table with a poster behind it that read: “Immunizations.”

On the other side were nurses beckoning parents over to ask whether their children had the mandatory vaccines needed to start school in about two weeks.

“You want to get it now, or do you want to wait for Mommy?” Randolph Blake said as he began coaxing the 12-year-old.


Jayce Lewis, 5, is held by his mother, Tyus Lewis, of Upper Marlboro, as he is immunized for his upcoming school year at Windy Hill Elementary. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Paige wasn’t so sure about any of it.

“Do I really need this?” she said.

“Yes, honey,” her dad replied.

Even the $10 that Blake offered in return to help pay for a new locker decoration wasn’t having much of an impact.

After filling out the necessary paperwork, Paige, a seventh-grader who will attend Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham, Md., walked into the small club seating area of the stadium that had been transformed into a mini-clinic and bravely received her two vaccines.

“You were super great,” Blake told his daughter after Altone Frazier, a nurse at DuVal High School, administered the shots.

“Cause I didn’t kick this time,” Paige said with tears welled in her eyes.


Anderson Mayorga, 9, of Laurel, smiles as he digs through the backpack he received filled with school supplies. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

The Blakes were among an estimated 8,000 who attended the school system’s annual fair, at which students could register for classes, buy uniforms, pick up free backpacks and, like Paige, get required immunizations before classes begin Aug. 26.

Genviere Thomas, a Lanham parent, said she was thrilled that her 12-year-old son, Marcus, was able to get his vaccines at the fair. For days, she said, she had called his doctor’s office, but they had run out of the supplies.

“This was definitely a blessing,” Thomas said.

Blake said he would have expected more students to get the free vaccines. But he suspected that many parents were not aware of the service. He didn’t know until he got to the fair.

For the few who did find the booth, the school system’s Health Services provided free chickenpox vaccines to kindergartners and free meningococcal and Tdap vaccines — for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis/whooping cough) — to students entering seventh grade.

In other areas of the arena, parents picked up materials from school leaders, while some children had their faces painted at one of the vendor booths. Outside the backpack distribution area, where hundreds of people stood in line to get a backpack full of school supplies, a parent got a hand massage at a table providing information about the district’s career academy, where cosmetology is taught.

Alison Hanks-Sloan, a Clinton resident who works for the school system, attended the event as a parent this year, with her three children in tow.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids and parents to get back into the swing of things,” she said.

Board of Education member Sonya Williams (District 9) said she was pleased to find out that some principals distributed all the materials they brought with them and that parents were able to learn about a new electronic system to pay for meal plans and aftercare.

“This is the kind of energy we need to start the year. . . . Now everyone can hit the first day running,” Williams said.

Kevin M. Maxwell, the school system’s chief executive officer, said he was thrilled with the turnout, which was greater than last year’s.

“You can just feel the excitement,” he said. “People are ready for the opening.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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