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The big 300!

Nick Onken

When reflecting upon the number 300, we can’t help but think about the movie with that same name. The film 300 came out in 2006, the same year our Founder, Adam Braun, graduated college. But what does a movie glorifying the Spartan empire of ancient Greece have to do with Pencils of Promise? Well, we at PoP like to think that we have a few traits in common with the bold, brave and ambitious Spartans.

Let us explain.

At this moment, PoP has officially broken ground on its 300th school.

To date, we’ve built 300 schools across 3 continents in 4 different countries. Each and every one of our schools in Ghana, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Laos is fully operational and educates students daily. 300 schools is a huge milestone for PoP, and one that we couldn’t have reached without your support, passion and commitment to this organization. Sounds a bit Spartan-like, if you ask us.

What does 300 mean to PoP? It means results for our students.

It means that in Guatemala, 40% more PoP 2nd graders are literate than their peers and 98% of teachers reported that their students are more focused in class because of a new PoP school.

It means that in Ghana, teachers and students both report that students with e-readers are now reading 2-times as much as before.

It means that in Laos, PoP 3rd graders score 3-times higher on literacy tests than their peers.

PoP students in Laos. | Photo: Nick Onken

Needless to say, our PoP family might not be battling in ancient Greece. But we undoubtedly have a Spartan-like mentality in our focus and dedication toward making access to education a reality for every child, everywhere. PoP invests in education. And the investment is paying off. As Alice, a 3rd grade student attending Okajakrom Basic School in Ghana put it:

“The best part of going to school is that we’re taught to become great people in the future.”

Think that’s ambitious? We don’t. Because that’s the power of an education — to inspire children, communities and even nations to believe in themselves and their own promise. A physical structure is just the first step; what’s happening inside the classroom is just as important as ensuring that students have a place to learn.

So, what’s next for PoP? We break ground on a new school every 100 hours. But now we’re not just creating infrastructure — 300 schools later, we’re genuinely changing what a learning experience can be for a child anywhere in the world.

PoP students in Ghana utilizing tablets in the classroom. | Photo: Nick Onken

We’re supporting teachers through training, lesson plans, private coaching and new literacy and numeracy methodologies. We’re awarding secondary school scholarships to students so that they can continue to receive an education. We’re providing water and hygiene lessons to teach students clean habits to keep them healthy and in school.

PoP students during a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) lesson in Laos. | Photo: Nick Onken

We’re also bringing innovations into our schools, including e-readers and tablets. We’re giving students access to books and materials, pencils and paper, notebooks and projectors; all basic classroom items that were rarely — if ever — found in their classrooms before. And we’re partnering with leading experts in the field of education, like TED Prize Winner Sugata Mitra and Microsoft, to launch a pilot around self-organized learning environments.

PoP is evolving into a learning organization focused on quality education outcomes.|  Photo: Nick Onken

We know that it’s not just the physical structure of a new school that indicates success or sustainability. For that reason, we have Monitoring & Evaluation teams on the ground in each country to extensively test and track the progress of our students. We consistently evaluate our methodologies to ensure students achieve the best possible results and make changes to our programming if we don’t see progress. We rely on measurable data to qualify our success and remain willing to change our goals or in-classroom methods to establish the long-term effectiveness of our schools.

And we’re seeing results — our programs, without question, have lead to increased student achievement.

A PoP student in Guatemala. | Photo: Nick Onken

Since 2008, Pencils of Promise has been a driving force in the fight for educational equality. As PoP reached an incredible achievement this week, it was quite apparent that our organization remains just as committed to providing children in developing countries with access to a quality education as we were six years ago.

(From L-R) Lanoy, Laos Country Director; Leslie, Director of Impact; Adam, Founder, at the first PoP school in Pha Theung, Laos. |  Photo: Nick Onken

We couldn’t have done it without you. To quote from 300 (we really like the movie!): “In the end, a Spartan’s true strength is the warrior next to him.”

The same can be truly said for Pencils of Promise. Without your support, dedication and endless effort, we couldn’t have reached this remarkable milestone. Without the commitment from our communities, teachers and PoP teams on the ground and in NYC, we wouldn’t have been able to turn one school in rural Laos into 300. Most importantly, without our students — who inspire us every day — we wouldn’t have a purpose: the unrelenting belief that everyone, no matter where you are born, has promise.

Here’s to the next 300.