Education Partnership outlines needs in Washington County, region

CECIL – Despite the well-stocked store shelves and the advertising onslaught that seems to start after the last fireworks are shot off on the Fourth of July, consider this: 1 in 3 students in the seven-county Pittsburgh region go to school every day without basic supplies.

That can encompass everything from ill-equipped classrooms wrought by straitened district budgets, to parents who simply can’t afford pencils, glue sticks and backpacks that many other families purchase as a matter of course.

“A large majority of people don’t fully grasp how much need there is in this community,” according to Josh Whiteside, the executive director of the Education Partnership.

Whiteside was at Southpointe Golf Club Thursday morning to talk about the Education Partnership, a nine-year-old, Pittsburgh-area organization that provides classroom supplies at no cost to schools and students who need them. It is funded through corporations and other businesses, along with gifts, grants and donations. In what was billed as a summit on Washington County education, Whiteside outlined what the Education Partnership has accomplished and whom it is assisting.

Some of the schools that are “full partners” with the Education Partnership include a handful in Washington County, including Washington Park Elementary School, Washington Junior/Senior High School, Ringgold Elementary South and Tri-State Christian Academy. The partnership is struck when a preponderance of the students within each school come from families at or below the poverty line, or come from families above the poverty line, but that nevertheless struggle to afford day-to-day necessities such as food, health care, transportation and housing.

Pointing to metrics that show population and income slowly growing in Washington County, Whiteside explained that “Washington County is on the rise, but there is still an extreme amount of need.”

So crucial are adequate school supplies that Kelley Zebrasky, the principal of Washington Park Elementary School, noted that “we don’t call them school supplies. We call them power tools.”

She added, “At a very early age, we are pushing kids toward their strengths. If you work hard and have the tools, you will be successful.”

More information is available on the Education Partnership online at theeducationpartnership.org.