Class at John Diefenbaker School in Prince Albert got off to a special start last week.
The school got a fresh load of school supplies thanks to Pencils of Hope, a non-profit organization that helps bridge the funding gap for schools in Saskatchewan.
Pencils of Hope launched in 2015 and through AY Photography, a Regina-based photography company owned by one of the founders, along with donations and sponsors partners with various schools across the province and offers school supplies.
Angela Yeaman the vice principal of John Diefenbaker became aware of the organization in the spring and saw on social media that they were accepting applications.
“I dug a little deeper into what it was because I didn’t know,” Yeaman said. “They are a group of five people based out of Regina who just have a passion for supporting students in Saskatchewan to be successful at school.
“One of the pieces they looked at is making sure students in Saskatchewan have the supplies they need to bring to school to then succeed in learning.”
Former principal Roy Feschuk completed the application in the spring. The school received approval in June.
Yeaman said John Diefenbaker is a school where the need for assistance is great, something they tried to stress in their application.
The organization then tries to earmark the supplies that students at the school could use or need because every school has a different supply list.
The school received pencil cases, rulers, pencils, erasers, pencil crayons, crayons, glue sticks, small scissors, loose leaf, duo tangs and markers.
“They actually ask what type of supplies would be beneficial for your school,” Yeaman said.
“The basics just to really get kids on a good track and ready, so it has benefits for students, families and our teachers.”
Yeaman said that families would not have to spend as much money, and teachers and families would not have to worry.
“When families are calling to register or talk about coming to school, whether they’re returning or new, and we start to talk about like supply lists and stuff like that, we often get comments from families,” she explained. “(They say), “well, I haven’t had time to go pick up everything yet and my first thing is, don’t worry about it. Get them to school. We will get them started and settled.”
Yeaman gave the example of a mother who had been shopping and could not find some necessary items.
“I said, ‘don’t worry about it. I have hundreds of rulers now, so don’t make not having what’s on our list prevent you from starting your kids at school,’” she explained.
Diefenbaker School also get donations from various backpack programs. Yeaman said that also leads to a great start to the new school year.
She said that often students register and start and then do not come. Parents explain that it was because the students did not have school supplies.
“We don’t want parents not to send their kids to school because they don’t have school supplies,” she said.
“We’re really trying to get out the message that … it doesn’t matter what they have. Just send them to school, and help them get settled into a routine. Get used to getting up, (and) getting to school. Get them connected and settled and we’ll figure out the supply part.”
The school supplies are applicable for everyone from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8. Yeaman picked up the supplies in Saskatoon in late August when they had all been collected. Pencils for Hope has primarily served the Regina area.
“They told me we can only get your stuff to Saskatoon we’re trying to figure out how to get it shipped farther north. I said, ‘don’t worry about that. We’ll figure out a way to send a staff member to Saskatoon to pick it up,’” she explained.
“Then when I picked up the stuff in Saskatoon, it was at somebody’s house that they don’t have a warehouse it’s just five people that want to help kids and parents.
“I packed it up in Saskatoon, packed my vehicle for barely got the trunk closed and brought the stuff to school, and we unpacked it,” Yeaman added.
She then sent out an email to teachers explaining what Pencils for Hope was and what the donation was. The donation arrived just in time for the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
She emphasized that the Pencils of Hope has an impact on students because they don’t have to worry and can sense when there is pressure at home.
“You can sense what your parents are feeling and you know your parents are trying to get you what you need to get to school. They sense that it’s hard and difficult and challenging no matter what age they are,” Yeaman said.
She said that it makes it easier for students to come to school and not have to worry and that they also made getting supplies casual.
“Once they’re here, we try and make it very casual to go get stuff. We make sure all of our students have access to it. Anything you need, your teacher can go help you grow. It’s not a big deal. It can even be simple like you lost your glue stick let’s go get you a new one,” Yeaman said.
An important aspect of the program, for Yeaman, is that this removes the stigma of asking for help.
“We really take the stigma from it, and then for teachers, it just helps them. They don’t have to run out of their pocket to pick up a bunch of stuff.”
She said that the organization has a goal of making education equitable in Saskatchewan. The organization has also tried to answer the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action through their mandate.
For more information on Pencils of Hope visit www.pencilsofhope.ca.