By Marsha Keefer
Independently owned Giant Eagle in Hopewell Township partnered with nonprofit The Education Partnership to provide take-home bags of core learning materials, things like pens, pencils, notebooks, and crayons.
ALIQUIPPA — As the nursery rhyme says, the “wheels on the bus go round and round,” but without the interaction of an engine, tires, or transmission, moving forward would be difficult, if not impossible.
Josh Whiteside used a simple art project at an assembly at Aliquippa Elementary School on Thursday afternoon, to drive home the importance of partnerships to advance success.
Whiteside is executive director of the Education Partnership, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that provides educational supplies to teachers and students in economically disadvantaged communities.
Since its inception 10 years ago, the partnership, serving a seven-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania, said it impacts 55,000 students, 4,500 teachers and 139 schools. Annually, it distributes approximately $5 million in resources thanks to financial support and donations from businesses, organizations and individuals.
For the 2018-19 school year, the Education Partnership said 85 percent of teachers who used its resources saw improved rates of homework completion; 93 percent saw better self-esteem among students; and 95 percent saw an increase in classroom participation.
Aliquippa Elementary is among school’s the Education Partnership has taken under its wing in its Adopt-A-School program.
Locally, the partnership paired with Aliquippa Giant Eagle in Hopewell Township, independently owned by George McGrady, to distribute take-home bags of core school supplies and homework kits to elementary students.
“The generous owners of Giant Eagle thought enough about you and all the other students in our building to put their money toward making sure that you have necessary school supplies,” said Principal A’Frica Sheppard. “I think that’s a really big deal because it was not cheap, trust me. It was in the thousands of dollars to make sure that every student got one of these kits here today through the Education Partnership.”
Pupils, dressed in red and black Quip colors and sporting paper hats that said “Quips Thank You,” erupted into enthusiastic applause.
Volunteers — three teachers, two Aliquippa Giant Eagle sponsors and one student — were asked to come forward. Divided into one-, two- and three-person teams, they were given two minutes to create a school bus out of construction paper.
But not each team received the same supplies. The three-person team — the team given the most supplies of scissors, tape and markers — naturally had more resources to create a more dynamic piece of art.
“Why do you think we play this game?” Whiteside asked.
“For fun,” one student replied.
That’s true, but Whiteside offered two more reasons: the importance of making sure students “get the right tools to do the job” and to show “the value of partnership…working together for the common goal.”
He quoted Booker T. Washington, an educator and reformer who founded Tuskegee University, who said “success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
Whiteside told students that receiving these school supplies “means one obstacle you can check off the box…After today you’re all going to have the materials at your house that you need to make sure that your learning doesn’t end when you leave school, but you can keep doing it when you get home.”
Bags they received contained things like notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, toothpaste and toothbrush, folders.
McGrady sweetened the deal. Students can exchange an empty plastic bag bearing his store’s logo for a treat card that will grant them a piece of fruit or cookie each time they visit with a parent or guardian.
“We’ve made it a point to be ingrained in the community,” McGrady said, one reason he wants to partner with the Education Partnership. “We try really hard to be in the community and support the community. We’re giving to people to help our community thrive for a long time and we want to be here for a long time. Having a vibrant community helps that.”
Sheppard said the take-home bags are an “added bonus” for the school.
Twice a year, she said teachers get to shop for school and classroom supplies at the Education Partnership’s Storehouse for Teachers on Corliss Street in the city’s West End.