As a retired law enforcement officer who worked in the past for the Illinois Department of Corrections, Rich Root observed that the average inmate entering the state penal system had the equivalent of a fourth-grade education. Based on that observation, he concluded that a lack of education led to a lack of opportunity, which had an adverse impact on an individual’s quality of life.  

Now a member of the Pekin Public School District 108 school board, Root is invested in providing students with the materials they need to learn. And learning, he believes begins with having a tool with which to write down thoughts and ideas.

“Unfortunately, Pekin has a rather high poverty rate, and we have children in our district who may be lacking in the school supplies that other students have access to,” said Root. “I want to make sure they get what they need.”

To address that need, Root and a group of friends donated about $450 to the District 108 school board, which used the donation to make wholesale purchases of about 22,000 pencils. The Pekin Young Women’s Christian Association has donated another 1,000 pencils to the district. Root presented the YWCA’s contribution during a morning assembly on Thursday at Dirksen Primary School. 

“It’s extremely beneficial for our district to receive this donation of pencils,” said Melissa Lard of Pekin, principal of Dirksen Primary School. “Our school district has been implementing a writer’s workshop for a number of years now. We dedicate time every day for all of our students to build their strength as authors, so these pencils will be a great resource for them.”

“The first thing a student learns to do is write letters and numbers,” said Root. “So, a writing utensil is likely to be the first learning tool that student picks up. I don’t think we’ll ever stop needing them. Even in the electronic age, you don’t type a note to your family on a computer keyboard and post it on the Internet. You write it down on a notepad with a pen or pencil.”