When Britnee Reid (pictured above) dreamed of becoming a middle school science teacher, she envisioned a classroom of children taking careful notes, creating projects with colored pencils and scissors, and packing homework in their backpacks each day.
What she didn’t imagine was a room full of students who came to class with no supplies.
Reid, a fourth-year teacher at York Chester Middle School in Gastonia, N.C., later learned that approximately 50 percent of students in the six-district greater Charlotte region – 100,000 kids – can’t afford lunch, let alone school supplies. Some children are homeless.
“There’s just no extra money,” said Reid.
But there is help for Reid and teachers like her who work in 192 Title I schools, where students received federally subsidized lunches.
Classroom Central, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, equips students living in poverty to effectively learn by collecting and distributing free school supplies. It was founded in 2002 by the Charlotte Chamber and the Carolina Panthers, and modeled after programs in other communities explored during the Chamber’s intercity visits.
Corporate partners like Allen Tate Companies help Classroom Central provide more than 1.4 million items to qualifying students each school year.
“Allen Tate is passionate about public education, and we love what Classroom Central has been able to accomplish. Supplies help ensure that every child is on a level playing field,” said Allen Tate Companies President/CEO Pat Riley.
“We’re honored to include Classroom Central as a recipient of our FUNday proceeds each year.”
Once a month, Reid “shops” at the Classroom Central Free Store on Wilkinson Boulevard for everything from pencils to pocket folders. Since the current school year began in August, more than 3,000 teachers have shopped at the Free Store. The store, staffed largely by 1,200 volunteers, can serve 50 teachers per hour.
Classroom Central also takes mobile “pop-up shops” to school districts outside Charlotte-Mecklenburg, including Gaston, Iredell-Statesville, City of Kannapolis, Lancaster, S.C. and Union County, N.C. Another program, Backpacks & Basics, allows a business to adopt one of the highest poverty schools and provide materials for the entire school year, at a cost of about $35 per student. Last year, Backpacks & Basics served 6,300 students in 10 Charlotte-Mecklenburg 100 percent free/reduced lunch schools.
“It’s so important to be able to receive supplies on a consistent schedule. Without Classroom Central, we would have to depend on other resources, which are not always available, or spend our own money,” said Reid.
“North Carolina teachers earn a starting salary of $35,000 annually. Even though they earn well below the average Charlotte household, they reach in their own pockets to spend $500 to $1,000 per school year to provide for their students,” said Karen Calder, executive director, Classroom Central.
But it’s more than just providing pencils and glue sticks. When teachers distribute school supplies, they are providing the care and support that students need to succeed, says Calder.
“These materials say ‘I care about you. I believe in you. I know you can succeed’,” said Calder.
At her previous school, Reid noticed a student with a tattered backpack.
“The straps were broken. The zipper was broken. I’m not sure how she was keeping it together.”
Reid approached the young woman, who had 12 siblings, and offered her the choice of a new backpack in the closet, as well as new supplies.
“She was so appreciative and thankful. It really improved her self-confidence. Something brand-new doesn’t happen often,” said Reid.
“Teachers tell us that Classroom Central positively influences student preparation and the quality of their work and increases their instructional time,” said Calder.
Classroom Central accepts donations of money, new school supplies and some personal care items, and welcomes volunteers. Recently, the organization celebrated a milestone of distributing $50 million in supplies across the six districts it serves since its inception.
Every year, the need increases. Calder says that by 2020, Classroom Central hopes to double its impact and distribute $5.5 million in supplies annually.
“Our mission is simple and not political. Kids being prepared to learn is important,” said Calder.
For more information about Classroom Central, visit www.classroomcentral.org or call 704-377-1740.