In the fall of 2008, Leesville Road High School initiated a free school supply program for students who experience homelessness or financial hardship, in an effort to ease the difficulties of facing high school with limited funds.
Last year, the program, funded through the contributions of willing Leesville parents and members of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), swiftly generated enough supply donations to fill a closet.
North Carolina’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act legally defines the homeless as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence await foster care placement, or who share a household due to economic struggles.” Fortunately, though Leesville does keep the state definition in mind, the school is free to be somewhat lenient as far as student qualifications are concerned.
In fact, the program operates very informally so that students are able to profit from the school supply program without any undue embarrassment or shame.
“People often associate words like ‘homeless’ and ‘poor’ with certain stigmas or stereotypes which is why many parents were surprised to find out that there are students at this school going through these types of hardships,” said Brandy Lyons, Leesville’s student assistance program counselor and the program’s founder. “It would probably surprise people if they knew the individuals who need this program, because you typically can’t tell from looking at them.”
Generally, teachers or social workers who notice that a student is unable to acquire the necessary school materials can simply refer said student to Student Services where Ms. Lyons or one of the other counselors meets his or her needs. The program is designed to be low-key in the interests of the students so there are no forms to fill out, no rigid guidelines, and no announcements on the school intercom.
“Many teachers have done the same service through their personal funds for years,” said Lyons, “but by collecting the supplies ourselves, we make sure that materials are more readily available for more students who may need them.”
Every Leesville teacher received an email last year, informing them of the available supplies and, thanks to immediate response of the PTSA and other parents, approximately 50 to 75 students obtained the materials they needed for the school year. The closet full of remaining supplies include numerous, notebooks, pencils, pens, highlighters, binders, and packets of loose leaf paper reserved specifically for students who are not able to attain them otherwise.
“This year we didn’t need any donations because we had such an overwhelming outpouring from parents for the students last year that there are still a lot of supplies left,” said Lyons.
At this point, the only contribution lacking is calculators, which is no surprise considering the noticeable expense. Furthermore, contributors cannot simply give money towards the program because of state and county regulations involving far more hassle than the donation, however beneficial, would be worth.
Leesville understands that some students need more from school than a class syllabus and list of school supplies in order to prepare for the school year. And thanks to the generosity of the PTSA and other Leesville parents, as well as the thoughtfulness of Leesville staff and administration, this high school has established yet another way to aid students in their pursuit towards education.