Christian Robles, Contributing Photographer

On Wednesday, caravans of cars full of eager New Haven Public Schools families showed up to Celentano Magnet School for backpacks and school supplies. 

The supplies distribution, which aimed to help students pre-K through eighth grade, is among the recent projects of the A.C.E. campaign, which stands for “attend, connect and engage.” The effort began in November with the goal of addressing the needs of local chronically absent students during remote learning. The campaign has since launched a slate of family outreach efforts that includes canvassing, socially distanced home visits and a Walk on Wednesdays pilot program, which seeks to rally community volunteers to go out on Wednesdays and talk with families of chronically absent students.

A.C.E’s efforts on Wednesday helped distribute more than 300 backpacks, face masks, bookmarks and pencils to NHPS families. Turnout exceeded expectations, leading project leaders to call in for more supplies, a scramble they were happy to undertake.

“We’re just excited to just remind families of the importance of attendance,” said NHPS Chief of Youth, Family and Community Engagement Gemma Joseph-Lumpkin at a rally before the supply drive. “But also we recognize that our families are in need of school supplies and other needs to help assist them and help ensure that their students are ready for school.”

According to Joseph-Lumpkin, the event’s success offers just a glimpse of what A.C.E. has already accomplished. In an interview with the News, she said that when the campaign first started in November, chronic absenteeism among students hovered around 41 percent for NHPS. Chronic absenteeism is defined as a student’s absence for 10 percent of school days. It has long remained a principal concern for district officials, in great part because it is commonly linked to higher dropout rates and learning loss.  

Since November, Joseph-Lumpkin said that the chronic absentee rate has fallen to around 30 percent in NHPS, a drop she attributes in part to A.C.E’s efforts. 

King/Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School Instructional Literacy Coach Jennifer Wells-Jackson volunteered to distribute supplies at Wednesday’s event. She told the News it worries her to see so many parents at the event as it suggests many families are struggling to afford essential supplies for learning. However, she said that she is happy to support NHPS parents and students by showing up to help and attend the rally, acts that she said show students that “they count.”

Despite long car lines due to excess demand, parents were largely happy with the event and excited to receive school supplies.

Maxine Harris is the mother of a sixth grader at King/Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School who has returned to school for in-person learning. She went to Celentano School to pick up bookbags and other resources for her child. Harris told the News that events like Wednesday’s are needed to connect the NHPS community together and support families during the pandemic. She suggested that NHPS publicize A.C.E. campaign events at corner stores and local businesses, in addition to digital outreach.

Fernando Ortega is mother of a first grader at John S. Martinez School. She told the News that she heard about Wednesday’s event from the NHPS website and was interested because the flyer said they were giving away book bags. She said that the event will help her a lot because her children need the resources that A.C.E. was offering at the rally.

“The truth is that there should be more help for the [community],” said Ortega as translated by the News. “This event will help me a lot and other people who are in the same situation as me.”

The A.C.E. campaign has compiled a list of resources for NHPS families, which can be accessed here.

Christian Robles |

Christian Robles was a public editor, city desk editor, and education & youth services beat reporter. He graduated from Yale in 2023 with a degree in Political Science and as an education studies scholar.