New, full backpacks brought smiles to the students of Coconut Palm K-8 Academy.   Pictured with Alex Price, National Director of Community Investment with Office Depot.

New, full backpacks brought smiles to the students of Coconut Palm K-8 Academy.

Pictured with Alex Price, National Director of Community Investment with Office Depot.

When you fill a large space to capacity with children in K-8 grades, add faculty, members of the local PTA, Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) officials, representatives from the National PTA office, almost 100

enthusiastic volunteers, and have a DJ with upbeat music, the noise level will be noticeable. Okay, it will be close to thunderous. The well-organized scene at Coconut Palm K-8 Academy Friday, August 23, 2019 was all this and more. The reason for the happy chatter, wide smiles, and high-fives as the children entered was the Office Depot Start Proud™ event where 1,000 backpacks were to be given to the students and other school supplies to teachers.

There have been numerous generous backpack giveaways in the local communities and Alex Price, Director of Community Investment for Office Depot, Inc., explained why they’ve established their program. “Office Depot began a process of business transformation in 2018, and so we were inspired to also transform how we engaged in our communities. As such, we have focused our priorities on empowering education, and Start Proud! was created as the vehicle to bring our people, creativity, products, and financial support all together to do just that. Start Proud! is an expanding program. We started this as a pilot program in 2018 adopting a school in 8 major US school districts. In 2019 we grew that to 18. These communities are our largest centers of employment, enabling Office Depot to mobilize enough employees to host a vibrant school celebration.”

The afternoon was definitely celebratory from the balloons and brightly colored logos to the calls for cheers from Jim Moore, who serves as DJ for the South Florida Office Depot events. Dr. Carmen Jones-Carey, principal of the Academy, brought relative calm to the excited crowd as she thanked the numerous special visitors and made introductions.

Kirk Allen, Sales Director of Boise Paper, Inc., remarked on the importance of education and explained even though they made many paper products, they planted far more trees than they used for production. His reminder of, “Be good to your teachers,” was met by smiles and laughter.

Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of MDCPS, spoke briefly opening with, “Your

principal is on fire because you’re on fire.” He thanked several individuals for being on hand to acknowledge, “..the best darn school system in the country,” and to praise teachers as, “the building blocks of the nation.”

Gerry Smith, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Office Depot Inc., came forward with two displays on stage still covered. He quoted a figure that has recently circulated about how teachers spend at least $400 a year from their own pockets to provide classroom supplies. The first display he revealed was a pallet of supplies to show some of the $1,500 worth to be distributed so every classroom had a share.

The Principal again called for a bit of quiet as yet another surprise awaited. “I was asked to select a Star Teacher for a special award.” She paused momentarily as a “Magic Hat” was held up. “All my teachers are stars though,” she said, and drew a name from the hat. As loud as the applause was, Ms. Majuliet Falk’s third grade class tried to outdo everyone with their cheers. A new laptop, printer, and chair was certainly a welcomed, “All-Star Teacher Award”. By happenstance, or perhaps there was a little magic involved, Falk, a veteran teacher of twenty years, was one of the original staff when Coconut Palm K-8 was established eleven years ago.

After that award, it was time to send the students through the line to receive their filled backpacks from the Office Depot volunteers who had come from various stores to give a hand. This was the fourth such event in seven days for Richelle Kubsch, Community Relations Coordinator, Office Depot in the Boca Raton office. She explained the process of contacting the respective school systems for their student supply list to determine what items would be placed in the backpacks. In addition to items from the list, a $20 Office Depot gift card was included in each backpack. MDCPS, Palm Beach, and Broward all had schools selected for this year.

Karen Moore, Upper Academy Reading Coach for Coconut Palm K-8, has held different teaching and leadership positions in her thirty years as an educator. “Dr. Jones-Carey told the leadership team about this when we met the week before students came back. We were sworn to secrecy and she made the announcements to all the teachers the first day of school.”

The school, which is a feeder for Homestead Senior High School, has almost 1,400 students.

To learn more about 2019-2020 programs, initiatives, and enhanced safety measures, go to

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