Local churches, nonprofits and businesses have joined forces with their school district to help underprivileged students with spectacular results.
A few years ago, the Federal Department of Education found that 94 percent of teachers pay for classroom materials or students’ supplies out of their own pocket.
On average, these teachers spent around $480 with some footing a bill as large as $1,000 for school necessities.
While many teachers are finding outside grants and other innovative ways to raise funds for their classrooms, it can still be deeply disheartening to run out of extra pens, pencils, and notebooks and then find a student on the first day of school whose third- or fourth-hand backpack is empty.
Supplying the Schools
For years, churches and faith-based organizations have rallied in the fall to help low income students with school materials. Larger organizations put on events where thousands of students come to pick up supplies.
However, World Challenge’s partners—Elevate Lives—wanted to create a long-lasting relationship with schools that allowed for better communication between teachers and people donating supplies or time to the school.
For the first time in Springfield, Missouri’s history, over 50 churches and faith-based organizations worked collaboratively to provide a different approach to a back-to-school program.
Russ Gosselin, the mastermind behind this project, christened it "Ready Set Supply."
The aim was to communicate with teachers about students’ specific needs and then gather high-quality school necessities for them. More than 6,300 students at a dozen schools received help.
“When a child can come to school with the same quantity and quality of supplies that their classmates have,” explained Jennifer Webb, principal at Williams Elementary School. “it also gives that student a sense of pride and confidence.”
Going Beyond Notebooks and Backpacks
Ready Set Supply is based on several crucial points: communication, working together and longevity.
A key component is regularly meeting with teachers to find out what they actually need for their classroom or individual students. Above and beyond this, World Challenge partners wanted to build a relationship that was more than a single week or two before school started.
They worked with teachers throughout the year to collaborate on larger projects and events teachers might want to hold for their students.
Several churches partnered with a school in their neighborhood to provide a “back-to-school” fun night with food and games where students and parents could come to meet their teacher.
This event also offered opportunities for families to sign their children up for “lunch buddies” or other educational and social support activities.
At one school alone over 80 parents signed their child up to eat lunch with an adult volunteer once a week. Many of these volunteers come from local churches and have a passion to see children succeed in school.
“This is not just a one-day distribution,” says one volunteer. “This is a year-long commitment that we are here to help.”
Looking at Long-term Solutions
Five years ago, people in the churches wanted to help out but felt that the needs were overwhelming and that few voices were providing practical direction for how to set up an effective program.
Now World Challenge partners have set up a neighborhood movement to support education, and the outpouring of local ownership has been incredible.
One church leader stated, “Since we have experienced the power of working together, I don’t know how we can go back to the old way ever again.”
“Supporting our under-resourced students with school supplies is not new,” says Marty Moore, executive director of learning support and partnerships for Springfield Public Schools. “But the strategic, collaborative effort with our partners is, and that effort will impact students district-wide.”
Ready Set Supply is an important step toward having churches, government, non-profits and business work together to meet real needs with lasting change.