School is Cool program packs 2,600 backpacks for PSD students in need

Laura Studley

The annual School is Cool event is in full swing this week, with its volunteers packing over 2,600 backpacks for students in the Poudre School District from kindergarten to 12th grade.

200 volunteers made up of Colorado State University faculty and staff signed up for the School is Cool event. (Photo by Laura Studley | Collegian)

Founder Kathy Phifer began the program 28 years ago when she began to think about the families who struggle to buy school supplies each year.


“I thought ‘If we’re struggling to provide this, how are (other families) doing it?’” Phifer said. “And so thankfully, (Colorado State University) opens their hearts and their wallets and their minds. Everyone was willing to get on board.”

The first year of the program, Phifer and volunteers were able to pack 67 backpacks for six PSD schools — now, School is Cool provides supplies for all schools within the district. 

I think that children being raised in any community feel the support of the community, and it makes a huge difference in their experience of belonging in the world. The more a community can surround its children and really lift them up, the better the community will be. Joyce McConnell, 15th president of CSU

Over the course of the week, the event will host over 200 volunteers. Though most volunteers are faculty and staff from CSU, community members are encouraged to give their time as well. 

“It’s a really great opportunity to give back to the community,” said six-year volunteer Kelly Mapes. “You do see a lot of students at an economic disadvantage that have high needs just for things to help them be a student with some fair shake. This backpack program is great in that it helps offset some of those financial expenses for that family.” 

President Joyce McConnell also volunteered her time for the cause. 

Colorado State University President Joyce McConnell holds up a School is Cool T-shirt after volunteering to pack backpacks for kindergartners. (Photo by Laura Studley | Collegian)

“I think (School is Cool) absolutely reflects CSU Ram values,” McConnell said. “The idea that we’re in here and we’re making it possible for these children to be able to start school with an open mind and (can look) forward to what they can accomplish in school, I think that’s amazing; reaching children that otherwise might not have this opportunity helps them understand the value of education.”

Through donations and a partnership with the CSU Bookstore, it takes $25 to pack a backpack. The backpack includes supplies that were listed as a priority by PSD counselors, teachers and principals. Each year, a survey is sent out to gather feedback for what students really need in the classroom. 

“We get a lot of feedback that these families wouldn’t have had (access to supplies),” said logistics coordinator Ann Randall. “We can do this for them for a much-reduced price. A lot of these (stuffed) backpacks might cost a family $100, and that’s $100 they don’t have.”

Two years ago, the program began providing backpacks to faculty and staff whose children may need them for the upcoming school year. This year, they will pack about 200 packs for CSU employees specifically.

School is Cool mainly provides supplies for students eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch program but also takes into account the specific school’s needs. If more resources are needed to support students, the program will provide them, Randall said. 


“I think that children being raised in any community feel the support of the community,” McConnell said. “The more a community can surround its children and really lift them up, the better the community will be.”

Laura Studley can be reached at or on Twitter @laurastudley_