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  • Jo-Anne Ebensteiner

With New Shoes, Students Feel They Can Do Anything. And This Changes Everything.

“I can run really fast now,” declares Julia, 7 years old, as she demonstrates her newfound skill. “My shoes are cool, so they make me run fast. My new friend Max said I could be on his racing team at recess. I'm going to win now.”

For most kids, getting new shoes is just an everyday occurrence. But for many children living in poverty, having a pair of shoes that actually fits can be life-changing. They can win.

Numerous studies have shown how something as small as ill-fitting footwear, worn and torn shoes, can negatively impact a child's self-esteem, classroom participation, and overall achievement. New shoes that fit are more than material goods, they are a way for students to thrive.

"Kids at lower socioeconomic levels already feel marginalized and self-conscious,” said Joaquin Galeano, Psy.D., clinical psychologist, and mental health therapist for Palm Springs Unified School District. “We’ve seen how something as simple as a nice pair of shoes has proved to help some come out of their shell. Suddenly, they don't have to worry about being the odd one out, and they can just be themselves and connect with their peers.”

The mental health impacts of not having adequate footwear manifest in the classroom. Children experiencing this often don't want to bring attention to themselves, leading to hesitancy in raising their hands, speaking up, or joining group activities. The emotional stress and feelings of not belonging make it incredibly difficult to focus on learning.

"Shoes are one of those basic needs that many take for granted, but not having proper footwear can be a constant source of embarrassment, distraction, and alienation," says Ellen Goodman, Director of The Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that supports programs and student needs for Palm Springs Unified School District. “All kids can go through self-conscious stages, but for underprivileged kids, they are painfully self-conscious about so much more, and it really affects how they see themselves.”

Shoes for Students is an annual fundraising campaign by The Foundation to raise community and philanthropic dollars to purchase shoes for K-12 students in need. In year three of the shoe campaign, the decade-year-old nonprofit is aiming to provide 2,500 pair before the start of the 2024-2025 school year. And they are hoping the community will help.

“What many in our community don’t realize is that 97% of our students are socioeconomically disadvantaged,” Goodman adds. “And shoes are one of the first signs of a child in poverty. When a family experiences economic hardship, either chronically or because of an emergency, they have to make choices on how to spend their precious resources. And necessities, like putting dinner on the table, are a priority over much needed shoes."

The Foundation is among a number of leading national organizations recognizing the small but profound impact new shoes can have on a child's academic success and overall well-being. Beyond academics, new shoes help students participate in school activities, make friendships, and grow in a sense of belonging. Educators say that there is an observable difference in kids when they get brand new shoes that fit right. They're more eager to participate, more socially engaged, and able to concentrate better without being preoccupied and self-conscious. Kids go from being shy, withdrawn, and distracted to feeling physically and emotionally confident.

“We don’t accept donated or second-hand shoes for a variety of reasons,” said Goodman. “For one, we have health standards we are required to uphold. But for another, our goal is to give decent new shoes that actually fit, that provide good support for growing feet. So, in this campaign, we ask for financial contributions. We work with corporate partners like Converse to select the best options we know kids will love.”

The Foundation works with partners to obtain footwear far below retail prices, so students get quality shoes they love and that fit well. This goes a long way to supporting growing feet, growing minds, and growing confidence, helping students to thrive in and out of school.

“It's amazing what a simple pair of shoes can do” Galeano marvels. "They don't just protect your feet, they can protect your self-esteem, your academic potential, and your whole outlook on life."

New shoes help a student step into dignity and a brighter future. Students begin to join in, feel like they belong, smile, and academics and behaviors begin to improve. It starts with shoes.

Give to Shoes for Students at this secure link:


The Foundation for PSUSD is a 501(c)(3) that funds innovative educational initiatives not covered by tax dollars to create pathways for students to realize their potential, flourish and prosper. The Foundation and our partners support a dozen initiatives, ranging from robotics and FAA student drone training to arts education where students perform with Broadway musical artists, from college readiness mentoring and college tours to building wellness centers in schools, all aimed at increasing achievement, opening minds and possibilities for student futures. Learn more at:


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