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New Kensington-Arnold students to receive school supplies from nonprofit

| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 1:11 a.m.

New Kensington-Arnold elementary students will be among 16,000 in Western Pennsylvania this summer to receive free school supplies through a nonprofit that addresses educational inequities.

The figure represents the largest number of students Pittsburgh-based The Education Partnership will supply since joining forces in 2009 with Giant Eagle to fund its annual school supplies program.

During that time, The Education Partnership has distributed more than $2.8 million worth of products to about 22,000 students across six counties, among them Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland.

The program is by far the most extensive of the organization's efforts to meet the demand of what it says are 38,000 Western Pennsylvania students in need of basic school supplies.

The number of those students the Education Partnership has committed to supplying this year is more than double last year's 7,600. And spokeswoman Katherine Harrell said the non-profit is moving closer with each passing year to completely filling the gap.

“I think more people are talking about this at a national level and it's gaining momentum,” Harrell said. “I don't think people knew students in their own country were without even the most basic school supplies that are necessary to succeed in the classroom.”

The Education Partnership has an independent selection committee that reviews applying schools, prioritizes by need and accepts as many as its budget allows.

Only schools with 70 percent or more of its student population qualifying for free or reduced-cost lunches are eligible to apply.

Of the 44 schools chosen this year, only one — Fort Crawford Elementary School in New Kensington — is located in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

The Education Partnership committed to Fort Crawford this summer before the New Kensington-Arnold School Board voted two weeks ago to close it and another elementary school as part of a districtwide consolidation.

With its closing, Fort Crawford students will be spread among the district's four remaining schools when classes resume in the fall.

Kindergartners will attend Martin Elementary School. First- and second-graders will transfer to H.D. Berkey Elementary in Arnold, which previously was an intermediate school, and third grade will now be taught at the Roy A. Hunt Elementary School, formerly Valley Middle School, which is also in Arnold.

The Education Partnership, according to operations manager Jane McCarty, will distribute supplies to the same amount of first- through third-grade classrooms at H.D. Berkey and Roy A. Hunt as it would have Fort Crawford.

That's to ensure that the former Fort Crawford students, 83 percent of whom were eligible for free or reduced cost lunches last year, don't fall through the cracks, she said.

Last year, the school benefitted from both the school supplies program and a holiday distribution program in December, which provided each of the school's 260 students with $38 worth of supplies.

Superintendent John Pallone said the district appreciates the supplemental programs that the Education Partnership provides to “help enhance the educational services the district provides.”

“We provide all of the necessary tools, all of the necessary resources, for every student in the district to enjoy the benefits of an equal education,” Pallone said. “The supplemental programs with The Education Partnership are just some of many we actively seek. They're helpful, they allow us to allocate resources in ways we otherwise would be unable to if our teachers couldn't pick up those supplies.”

Teachers who are approved to participate are invited to The Education Partnership's facility in Pittsburgh'sWest End section, where they can gather up to $1,200 worth of materials of their choosing, according to Harrell.

“The teachers can come in and they essentially shop for free for everything they might possibly need,” Harrell said. “We have t-shirts, pencils, backpacks, calculators, notebooks — you name it. It saves the teachers money, too, because they don't have to dig into their own pockets.”

The Education Partnership is expanding its school supplies room as part of a renovation at the 30,000-square-foot facility. The project, estimated at $500,000, will be paid for with city and state grants restricted to facility improvement that The Education Partnership secured earlier this year.

“We're not going to spend any money that should be going to kids on ourselves,” Harrell said. “For every dollar donated, 94 cents goes to supplying students in need. We keep our operating costs very low, so the money is going where it should: to the students and the schools.”

The Education Partnership receives no government funding for the school supplies program. According to Harrell, it relies solely on donations and corporate partnerships.

Giant Eagle has served as a corporate partner to the Education Foundation since the beginning, Harrell said. It's raising money for the school supplies program this year by asking shoppers for donations of $1 or more at the cash registers in 28 participating locations throughout the area.

Dick Roberts, who handles public relations for Giant Eagle through New Perspective Communications, said the company's relationship with The Education Partnership demonstrates its commitment to community service.

“Supporting local educational endeavors is an important way that Giant Eagle contributes to the community it serves, and The Education Partnership has become a notable example of how we pursue this goal,” he said. “We thank our team members and our customers for their support in previous years and during this campaign.”

Harrell would not say how much they expect to raise through the program beyond “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Donations can be made through Sept. 3.

Other corporate partners for The Education Partnership include BNY Mellon Bank, Home Depot, American Eagle Outfitters and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“With the help of personal donations, foundations and corporate sponsorships, we've been able to grow pretty rapidly,” Harrell said. “We're adding the excitement of returning to school and the confidence the kids need.

“For a lot of them, education is the only way out of their economic situation.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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