Tarrant County Back to School Round Up pre-registration coming up

ARLINGTON -- Erik Roberts, 8, clutched the straps of his new green backpack as a dentist checked his teeth for cavities.

The Fort Worth third-grader hadn't expected a dental exam in the middle of a Walmart aisle, but he was excited to be getting ready for school so early in the summer.

And because he comes from a family with five children, the help is appreciated, he said.

"This was cool because I get my supplies for free," Erik said. "I like going to school because I get to learn about more stuff."

Erik and a handful of other children were in Arlington on Monday to help publicize that it's time to register for the annual Tarrant County Back to School Round Up, which provides school supplies, dental and vision checkups, haircuts, immunizations and other services for children.

Qualifying families can register this weekend at locations across the county for the Aug. 12 roundup.

The event had traditionally been for elementary students, but organizers hope this year to help 10,000 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. All students will receive school supplies, but only elementary students will receive backpacks.

About 48 percent of Tarrant County public school children live in poverty. Organizers said they expanded the program because more families are struggling because of the economy.

"We are finding that families that struggle to help their young kids are also struggling to get supplies for their older kids," said Judi Ketchum, this year's roundup board president.

To qualify, families must meet the 2010 federal poverty income guidelines, present photo identification and show proof of income and proof of Tarrant County residency. Organizers request that families take immunization records to pre-registration.

Free parking will be provided at Farrington Field, University Drive at West Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth, with the T providing transportation from the stadium to the event at the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall.

Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said providing children with school supplies helps keep them energized to learn instead of worried.

"It should not make a difference if you can afford school supplies or not. You should have them," he said.

The roundup is a collaborative effort among Tarrant County officials, local school districts, state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, businesses and other volunteers. The event will also have music, games and educational booths.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700