Article by Urban Alliance staff. Photo by World Vision photographers.

Parkville Community School in Hartford is just that, a community. The school serves students speaking many languages, from over 23 different countries and cultures, and is preparing for more as they get ready to welcome displaced families looking for a place to call home after the recent southern storms. Principal Dirk Olmstead beamed with pride as he shared of the Student Council’s current bottled water and non-perishable food drive in partnership with the Parkville Community Association and Senior Center.

The exciting part, is that it’s not only the students at Parkville who are teaming up to share resources, the teachers and staff are putting this into practice every day through their partnership with World Vision- East Hartford and it’s Teacher Resource Center (TRC). Parkville and World Vision connected originally in 2015 through Urban Alliance’s Next Generation school partnership support, which helps students in our local community succeed by inviting teachers in qualifying under-resourced school districts to “shop” for free school supplies once a month at the TRC.

The teachers have taken a “one school” or community approach to shopping at the Teacher Resource Center ever since, meeting together to share their shopping lists, check on needs, and to collaborate on how best to use all of the materials when they get back to school. As an under-resourced school, Parkville teachers and administration are used to making the most out of what they have at hand, a concept that is not foreign to World Vision’s warehouse, which receives donations from large companies looking to pass on their overstock.  The donations from the Teacher Resource Center allow the school to continue to build the unique community feeling and spirit that makes them so strong already. Parkville Executive Assistant Nancy Rodgers shared, “It’s recycling at its best.”

The students from Parkville are very aware that when their teachers walk through the halls with their shopping bag from World Vision stuffed full, it means that there will be something new and exciting ahead. The staff sees it not only as a benefit to their everyday operations, but as a way to validate the students’’ worth and to teach them good stewardship and responsibility. “By sharing the resources and where they came from, we have the opportunity to remind the students that the items from the Teacher Resource Center are valuable and that someone took the time to share these with you,” Principal Olmstead explained.

The staff is energized by their monthly trips to shop. The school even cancels their staff meeting the week they are scheduled to shop, so that all the teachers can make it to East Hartford to gather what they need and bring back the rest to share. “Restrained by the city and state budget, there are so many reasons why things can’t happen.  Shopping at the TRC empowers staff to be able to make a difference in their classroom and the school,” shared Olmstead.

Third grade teacher Samantha Bly is one of those teachers, who sees the difference being made. “As a teacher, I love shopping at the TRC. My students get so excited about the little things, like pencils and barrettes.” She went on to share the story of one student last year who loved all kinds and colors of tape. Ms. Bly found a frog tape dispenser at World Vision as a reward for that student, and he was beyond excited and motivated by it. This year, even as he is not in her classroom, he still comes by and asks if she has been shopping and if she has found any more tape there!

Folders, books, backpacks, and toys are among some of the other available items that allow the teachers to reach beyond their means to encourage, build relationships and motivate their students. Many times the items serve as prizes and as classroom supplies, and in some cases as non-traditional ways to work with students dealing with behavior issues or needing a break from the classroom. Principal Olmstead shared “I have even seen staff using the materials as art therapy, giving students who are struggling with their behavior a time to reflect, write or draw an apology note at their own pace.” This is just one example of how intentional Parkville is about using the resources; they will find a place or use for everything because of how much they value the partnership.

A favorite memory for Parkville Community staff comes from last Christmas, when a World Vision bus pulled up behind the school full of Disney Infinity game figures to gift the students before they left on their winter break. The teachers and staff surprised the group from World Vision with the amount of volunteers to unload the bus. “We were asked, ‘Don’t you have other things to do? We can take care of bringing this in,’” Olmstead shared with a smile, “and (we) answered, ‘Yes, we do but, we value this partnership and the donations so much, we will make time.’”

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