Donated beds are helping students from a Pittsburgh school to get the rest they need

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The first-grader at Pittsburgh Schaeffer K-8 in Crafton Heights told his teacher that he wondered what it would be like to sleep on a bed.

He was about to find out.

He was one of 40 children who arrived home on Tuesday to find a new twin bed -- complete with sheets, a comforter and a book. Some of the children in the high-poverty school had been sleeping on the floor or couch or sharing a bed with several people.

Today the teachers are about to find out what it's like to teach in a school in which everyone has a chance to get a good night's sleep in a bed.

Cynthia Zurchin, primary building principal, said her staff noticed that some of the 200 children at the primary school were falling asleep at the school breakfast table as soon as they arrived.

"We wake them up. We've literally had some we can't wake up. We've had to pick them up and start to carry them out, and then they wake up," Dr. Zurchin said.

The staff began working on ways to address the problem about two years ago. Teachers initially sought donations of sleeping bags, and about a dozen students received sleeping bags. Some students wondered when their turn would arrive.

But then a chain of events led to something better than a sleeping bag: a bed.

Schaeffer became a pilot for Storehouse for Teachers, a Pittsburgh-based organization aimed at providing supplies to teachers at low-income schools in southwestern Pennsylvania. The organization approached CentiMark, a commercial roofing company based in Canonsburg.

CentiMark spokeswoman Kathy Slencak said she asked, "What's the strangest request you've received?" The answer was sleeping bags for children who didn't have beds.

Ms. Slencak recalled saying, "Stop right there. My boss, Ed Dunlap, can't stand to hear stories like that."

She went to Mr. Dunlap, chairman and CEO of CentiMark, who said "absolutely" CentiMark would donate mattresses, box springs, bed frames and bedding. Pitt Ohio Express stepped in to volunteer to deliver the beds. Operation Backpack provided stuffed animals, books, toothbrushes and toothpaste for each child.

A survey of Schaeffer students showed 30 families needed beds for 40 children, including siblings who were not enrolled at the primary school, said the principal. About 85 percent of the Schaeffer primary families qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Dr. Zurchin said the school tries to work with families to help the children's education.

Some students who couldn't see the board, even sitting close, also couldn't afford glasses. An eye doctor visited the school, and the organization Mission Vision provided glasses for students who needed them.

She said the staff is a "great team" that thinks "outside the box."

"We're going to make it work," she said. "These kids are going to do well. They're going to be successful."

When parents learned their children could get beds, Dr. Zurchin said, "Some of the parents cried. One mom came up here one day, and she just started to cry. 'I have four kids. None of them has a bed.' "

Dr. Zurchin visited some of the homes as the beds were delivered. "We saw people that were just so thankful and so appreciative."

When third-grader J'Quinn Johnson, 8, of Crafton Heights, arrived home Tuesday, she spent the first 10 to 15 minutes on her new bed.

Her mom, Hazel Guess, said J'Quinn, who had been sleeping on a futon, will "get better rest probably."

J'Quinn said she thinks she'll sleep better, too.

"It's really soft, and I like the colors, and it's really big and comfortable," she said.

What else did J'Quinn want to say?

"Thank you for the bed," she answered.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955.


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