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North Hills Monthly

How is The Education Partnership Crucial to Student Success?

Oct 01, 2016 02:09PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

It’s a sobering truth, but many children in our region, particularly those who attend schools in low-income areas, do not have access to basic school supplies. Another truth is that many teachers pay out of their own pockets to furnish their classrooms with any necessities that their school districts are unable to provide. In fact, national research reveals that 77 percent of school supplies in classrooms are provided by the teachers.

Justin Brown, founder of The Education Partnership, and his staff work tirelessly all year long to make sure that children with the greatest needs have the school and classrooms supplies that they require to have a successful school year.

North Hills Monthly Magazine: What is the mission of The Education Partnership?

Justin Brown: Our mission is to reduce inequities in education by providing school and classroom supplies for students and their teachers in low-income neighborhood schools.

NHM: When was The Education Partnership first established, and by whom?

Brown: I started it as an offshoot of the Pittsburgh Community Storehouse where I was executive director, when I learned how many school children were going without the necessary school supplies that they needed to succeed in school. That started me on a search. I found a national model that had been successful in 38 cities across the country. I started this organization in 2009, formed bylaws, created a board, and we purchased a building in the West End. In 2010, we renovated the facility enough to take occupancy, and launched as The Education Partnership in May of 2011.

NHM: How does it work?

Brown: It’s pretty simple—if you want to get school supplies into the hands of as many children as possible who needed them, how would you distribute them? The best way is through their teachers. Teachers come to our facility multiple times a year, and shop for their students and classrooms—all at no cost! Last year, we distributed over $3.5 million worth of goods. This school year, we are reaching out to help more than 32,000 kids and 2,600 teachers.

NHM: What types of supplies do you provide?

Brown: Students need everything—pencils, pens, markers, glue sticks, folders, notebooks, erasers, papers, scissors, rulers and more. In the classroom, teachers need everything—cleaning supplies, project materials, decorations for their classrooms, desktop organizers, storage and binders. We distribute copy paper like crazy.

NHM: Why is having school supplies critical to children's success?

Brown: How else can you negotiate education if there is nothing to translate and transcribe what you’re learning? Without a notebook or paper or pencil, how can you learn writing skills and practice math? It becomes a serious challenge—not to mention the emotional impact and peer-to-peer pressure!

NHM: Why are so many students lacking in basic school supplies?

Brown: If you do any research in neighborhood schools where real estate values are low and there’s not a lot of income or general commerce, personal income and school budgets suffer. Many affluent neighborhoods actually have fundraisers to help with supplies on top of having high real estate taxes that help subsidize supplies for their kids. That is not possible in low-income neighborhoods. The level of economic well-being is very low in the neighborhoods we serve.

NHM: How much do teachers pay for school supplies out-of-pocket, and why do they need to do this?

Brown: We just received an article that gathered testimonies from across the country on teachers spending anywhere from $200 to well over $1,000 annually. It still is pretty much a requirement that if you’re going to teach in a low-income school, you’re going to be paying to get supplies for the kids. Teachers start the school year with a bare classroom and empty closets and are provided a very small, or in some districts, no classroom supply budget. Teachers know that their students’ families are often struggling to put food on the table and buying school supplies isn't possible.

NHM: Where does The Education Partnership obtain the supplies?

Brown: We have created true partnerships throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, as well as nationally to obtain school and classroom supplies. Relationships with the Kids in Need Foundation and Feed the Children provide a large amount of the materials needed, and we also get donations from corporations, organizations and individuals throughout the region. Additionally, we have developed a strategy to most effectively purchase supplies.

NHM: Where does the money come from to fund The Education Partnership?

Brown: We are privately funded and raise money constantly from corporations, foundations, organizations, and individuals, but we do not receive government funding. We operate on only five cents for every $1 obtained, allowing for 95 percent of the funds received to go to our mission! The list of partnerships supporting our mission is tremendous and deeply appreciated.

NHM: How many schools do you distribute supplies to in the southwestern Pennsylvania area?

Brown: We serve six counties and currently we are serving 86 schools: public, private, charter and special needs.

NHM: How do schools qualify to benefit from The Education Partnership?

Brown: The eligibility requirement is that at least 70 percent of students are enrolled in the national free and reduced lunch program. If you average all 86 schools that we serve, the free reduced lunch percentage is 94 percent.

NHM: Are there any new initiatives or programs that you want to share?

Brown: We have a new program call Adopt-A-School. It allows an organization, corporation or individual to select an eligible school and build and distribute special Power Tools Homework Kits to every single student. We handle all the logistics and provide the sponsor with a terrific experience in assembling the kits, writing encouraging notes to include, and participating in an all-school assembly where the kits are handed out in person—one at a time. Everyone who has participated says that it’s the best community engagement experience that they’ve ever done.

For more information on The Education Partnership and how to help,