As the academic year comes to a close, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that provides school supplies to help kids succeed is looking at an impressive report card.
The Education Partnership announced that it has accepted more than 42,000 students in 100 Partner Schools for the upcoming 2017-18 school year. That is an increase of 10,000 students from the current school year.
Justin Brown, who started the organization in 2009, was inspired by similar teacher programs in other cities. The benefits to students go far beyond their excitement at receiving gift bags filled with basic school supplies, such as pencils, notebooks, glue sticks and crayons.
Through teacher surveys, the Partnership determined that students miss fewer days of school, have a better attitude about their studies, and are more attentive and better behaved – simply because they feel more prepared for learning.
“Teachers report their students have improved feelings of self-worth and actually achieve higher scores in every academic subject,” says Brown, executive director.
The Education Partnership reaches out to schools in its six-county service area, which includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties. School administrators can apply to secure critically needed supplies for every classroom teacher and their students.
Schools are selected for the program based on greatest need. Once they qualify as a Partner school, teachers are welcome to visit the Education Partnership’s Resource Center facility in the West End.
In addition to basic school supplies, they can obtain classroom equipment, such as printers, overhead projectors, and TVs. Teachers can visit the Creative Corner of the center to pick up items for art projects, awards and a variety of materials to decorate their classrooms.
“There are so many creative things that the teachers do with the Creative Corner,” says Nicole Bitar, an assistant elementary principal for New Kensington-Arnold School District.
“One first-grade student had shared with his teacher that he didn’t have a blanket or a bed at home – he was sleeping on the couch,” Bitar says.
At the Creative Corner, the teacher found enough donated material to make over 20 blankets.
“Every first-grade student in that classroom received a warm, beautiful, colorful blanket,” Bitar says.
As with many of the schools helped by the Education Partnership, a majority of students in Bitar’s district come from low-income homes, with 100 percent of students receiving free lunch.
“Some of our students are well above grade level and are in need of enrichment, while other students have had limited experiences with literacy, writing, or vocabulary and need to work on very basic skills,” she says. “The Education Partnership helps to even the playing ground for our students by giving all of our students the tools they need to be successful in and out of school.”
Something as simple as a pencil or a notebook can make a huge difference to a child, she says.
Lisa Saba, a first-grade teacher at Pittsburgh Banksville Elementary School, has seen first-hand the positive difference that being prepared makes in students.
“Education Partnership has been so important to their academic success,” she says. “We have 42 percent entry level ESL (English as a Second Language) students. The supplies aid all of our students in learning and ease the financial burden of all our families.”
With students having the appropriate supplies, teachers have seen an increase in completed homework assignments and projects, Saba says.
Other schools that don’t qualify for the free school supply program may be eligible for the Junior Partner program, which offers opportunities to participate in special creative distributions.
Going forward, Brown stresses the importance of developing long-term partnerships with businesses, organizations, families, and volunteer groups through the Education Partnership’s Adopt-a-School Program.
The program enables groups to give back to the community and invest in its future by connecting with schools in need – including those in their own neighborhoods – and facilitating the collection and creation of “Power Tools Homework Kits” for its students.
“Adopt-a-School has such incredible promise, and it’s a great team-building opportunity,” Brown says. “We’re super psyched about it.”
Brown and his team are committed to bridging the gap between what students have and what students need to flourish.
“We’ve made such tremendous strides this year, but the journey is far from being over,” he says. “We need to keep dreaming, giving, building, growing and striving together until every child has the educational opportunities they deserve and the foundation they need to go out into this world and make a difference of their own.”
The public can get involved this summer by making contributions to the initiative at local participating Giant Eagle stores. From Aug. 1 through Labor Day, shoppers can make a donation at the checkout or self-checkout lines and encourage friends and neighbors to do the same.
“It’s our biggest fundraiser,” Brown says. “It’s how we’ve been able to grow our organization.”