“When you stop to think that this is a professional sports organization that has taken an interest in an elementary school in our city—it’s very meaningful. It shows that we’re valued. It’s part of who we are at this point,” said Avondale Elementary school principal April Knight.
Avondale Elementary in Franklinton proudly displays their nearly decade-long partnership with the Columbus Blue Jackets in a banner on the side of their building.
“We have a really good working relationship. The [Columbus Blue Jackets] Foundation is so instrumental in their support of education and what’s happening in Columbus,” Knight added. “I was a huge Blue Jackets fan, still am, will always be.”
Knight’s unwavering support for the Blue Jackets is strengthened by the time, attention, and care Blue Jackets staff members put into her students.
“One of the main projects that we do is a pen pal program. Our fourth and fifth graders at the beginning of each school year are partnered with staff members of the Blue Jackets organization,” Knight explained. “They correspond by letters and work together over the course of the year in a manner that allows the students to kind of develop a friendship with somebody outside of the school.”
Those friendships have become a bright spot for students who are growing up in one of Columbus’ most undeserved areas.
“Anybody that’s below fourth grade, this is one of the highlights that they look forward to. Our third graders are already talking about how excited they are next year they get to be a pen pal,” said Knight.
The pen pal program at the school has become so popular among students that they have expanded the outreach to younger students as well.
“We take all the kindergarten, first, and second graders to the arena and the staff there does a little trick-or-treat. The kids go around, they decorate that little office areas,” Knight said. “So it continues to grow with the students that they’re reaching out to.”
The Blue Jackets’ success this season adds to the pride Avondale has in their affiliation with the team.
“They are very excited! They don’t necessarily fully understand everything, but they know that the staff is in their Blue Jackets gear a lot,” Knight said. “They know that this is something that we’re really excited about. They also know that the Blue Jackets are our partners. They know that they help us.”
That partnership has also turned into a generation of new fans Knight says.
“As our students are getting older and moving on, that interest that they have in hockey, and that interest that they have in the Blue Jackets continues and builds as they get older. That information then spreads like wildfire when they get to middle school and onto high school. I think it’s a positive way to build up that fan base,” explained Knight. “For a lot of the students that we serve, with the generational poverty that they experience and a lot of the other challenges that come along with things that are happening in their lives, having something in there lives positive and fun to relate to you, I think it’s very important to them.”