Going Above and Beyond: How Teachers Help Equip Native Youth for Success
PWNA’s American Indian Education Fund has been supporting schools and students across the Northern Plains and Southwest for decades. The importance of a pen and paper in the classroom has not lost its significance to those who’ve received school supplies from PWNA over the years and the generational appreciation is evident.
Amanda, a certified K-12 school counselor on the Pine Ridge Reservation, knows firsthand that providing school supplies to students not only reduces stress for her students’ families but also for teaching staff. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of teachers spend their own money to stock their classrooms and, on average, a teacher will spend approximately $479. This is a hefty investment when you consider a teacher’s low-paying salary.
“We have some students and families who may be able to afford to buy new school supplies but for those who enter the classroom empty-handed, PWNA really helps to alleviate the stress and anxiety,” said Amanda. “Many teachers and staff try to help as much as possible by donating new supplies, so PWNA helps teachers too.”
For Heather, a teacher on the Cheyenne River Reservation, school supplies from PWNA means less money out of her pocket for her students. “When our junior high school ran out of lined paper, I gathered up the paper left over from the [PWNA] distributions for use through the end of the year – know those donations did not go to waste,” said Heather.
Oftentimes, those same students who are worried about coming to school without the essentials are likely just as worried about food or basic utilities at home. So, while PWNA’s school supplies offer financial assistance, they also impact overall motivation, participation and learning in the classroom.
“As a school counselor, I try to store extra supplies in my office throughout the year so that when students need something, they know they have a place – and space – to come to without having to worry,” said Amanda.
Students like Jack, who began his education at a small elementary school in the northwestern corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation and went on to graduate from Red Cloud High School, continue on to college, in his case to Northern State University. Jack reflected on the challenges of accessing basic supplies, such as paper and pencils, and recalls the time that school supplies were provided to him and other students in elementary school through PWNA and other donors. “Being equipped with the right supplies helped us keep up with notes, which in turn helped with passing our exams and quizzes,” said Jack.
Despite the struggles, Jack remembers being part of the welcoming and inclusive learning environment his school and its staff created during his early learning years. Today, Jack’s parents help him with supplies to pursue a business degree and, through a Department of Education program at his college, students can borrow laptops for taking notes at lectures and doing online homework.
Whether students are continuing on to college, many of them with continued assistance from PWNA, or completing their K-12 education, basic school supplies are critical tools for learning in the classroom and help support Native futures.