All of the seventh-graders in the McKeesport Area School District clambered into the bleachers of the gym at Founders' Hall Middle School. Once seated, they leaned forward and peered curiously at the mountain of cardboard boxes stacked on the other side of the gym.
The surprise assembly was hosted by The Education Partnership, a nonprofit that donates school supplies to teachers and under-served students.
This holiday season, the partnership will distribute more than 6,000 cardboard "briefcases" full of, pencils, crayons, glue sticks, toothbrushes and tissues to students at 16 schools in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties. In McKeesport Area, 600 seventh- and eighth-graders at Founders' Hall will receive the boxes.
After the students realized the boxes were for them, they got excited.
Justin Brown, the partnership's executive director, told the students about the program and the importance of learning. Then, he urged them to shout out what they would like to be when they grow up. A few yelled "football player" or "athlete," but there also were budding engineers, photographers and paleontologists in the group.
After the brief presentation by Mr. Brown, the students lined up and took a box from a volunteer.
"Thank you!" one student shouted at volunteers, teachers and reporters clustered around the table full of boxes. "I'm so happy!"
Mr. Brown, who fist-bumped students after they received their briefcases, described the contents of the boxes as "power tools." In addition to basic school supplies, the items included a pocket dictionary and a calculator.
"This is pretty nice," one student said as she walked away with her briefcase.
Amy Clark, a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher who was on the committee to bring the partnership program to Founders' Hall, said she was particularly excited about the inclusion of a dictionary.
It's not uncommon to hear that the briefcases are the only gift students receive around the holidays, said Katherine Harrell, a spokeswoman with the partnership, and some students are in need of basics such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant, all of which are included in briefcases for students in grades 6-12.
The Education Partnership was established in 2009 and distributes school supplies out of a warehouse in the West End.
Mr. Brown said most teachers pay out of pocket for at least some of their school supplies, and the partnership wanted to help ease the financial burden on them.
The organization formerly operated under the name Storehouse for Teachers and changed its name to reflect the growing need to help both teachers and students in a variety of ways, Mr. Brown said.
The partnership is sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters, Target, Giant Eagle, The Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation and WQED, among others.
For more information on The Education Partnership's programs: www.theeducationpartnership.org.
Annie Siebert: email@example.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.