How a Journal Company Turns the Page for Struggling Students

The Scribes helps keep creativity alive in NYC schools

All students pictured have been granted media release consent from their parent / guardian

“Without even really thinking about it we had developed this give-one model from the very beginning,” says Mike Reiney, one of the co-founders of The Scribes notebook company. Mike and his two colleagues, Pooja and Alden, used to work for the same tech company way back when. They all worked in different departments, but being the newbies, they were tasked with also being the notetakers, always scribbling furiously in the back of the room, more often than not on one of the 85 crappy branded-notebooks given out at some tech conference they just returned from. They called themselves jokingly, “The Scribes,” for their note-taking tasks. But they also noticed the stacks of low-quality notebooks they were rapidly accumulating, and the three amigos decided to create an alternative. Enter The Scribes stage left. If companies were going to be handing out these branded notebooks, wouldn’t it be better if they were something well made and nice to use?

The what-once-started-in-a-Slack-channel idea came to fruition as high-quality journals. A solid side hustle. But things started to gel when the fledgling company found ways to give back beyond keeping cardboard and vinyl out of landfills. It began with Mike’s sister, the director of after-school activities at a juvenile detention center in DC, who mentioned the students and facility did not have the funding to provide the supplies needed for schooling. This is where it all flipped. Instead of selling all of the journals they originally had produced, they sold half and donated the other half to the students at the DC facility. From this point on, it wasn’t just about creating products that people would use and enjoy, but it was about serving others.

Pooja, Alden and Mike

As the company grew, Kirkland and Ellis, a rather to-do law firm, began using Scribes journals for their attorneys. We told you they were pro model. Turns out, a few of the employees at the firm started the Foundation for Education in Honduras (FEIH) which has in-turn led to 15 new schools being built in Honduras, placing almost 4,000 students back in school. With similar non-profit interests, Mike and his team knew they had to get involved with FEIH, and from there, donated more than 3,000 journals, so each student was able to have one of their own. After this, The Scribes partnered with more than 10 different nonprofits, donating thousands of journals to students in underserved communities.

The donation efforts to students in need gained momentum after the pandemic shook up a lot of things. We know you know. But one of the things it really gave a good joggle to was the normalcy of being a student in grade school. Young kids and teachers had to turn to online and virtual learning and if you can recall being in a classroom at age 8, pretty much everything was hands-on. Especially in art class. If adults can barely operate Zoom, how can we expect a 3rd grader to successfully navigate art projects via laptop?

As New York City entered lock-down, these students had no choice but to try and learn from home. Wanting to do something to help, Mike, Pooja and Alden reached out to teachers and schools, getting in touch with Joy Pace, the art director of all art programs in Brooklyn public schools. Word got around. Haya Moline, Art Specialist at Public School 261 in Brooklyn, NY, was the first to reach out to Mike about receiving a donation. She heard about the initiative in a meeting and thought of how much better it could be for them if all of her students had their own sketchbooks. “I emailed and expressed the needs of my students. Mike immediately got back to me—so fast it was amazing,” she says. Other teachers in the area started to hear about the program through Facebook groups or professional development meetings or just the grapevine. Courtney Watson, Visual Arts Specialist at Concourse Village Elementary School in The Bronx, NY, and Niaren DeSilva, Art Teacher at Public School 11 in Brooklyn, NY, also found help with supplies from The Scribes. With many of these schools being in low-income areas, these teachers were noticing students did not have the means necessary to participate in the classwork and knew they needed to do something about it.

Mike, Pooja and Alden delivering notebooks

“A lot of the kids that I work with don’t have anything. They don’t have paper, they don’t have pens. I’ll be on Zoom calls with them and they’ll tell me they don’t have these basic supplies and my heart would just sink,” Haya explains. But once the journals were delivered, the teachers noticed a significant difference in the behavior and attitude of their students.

The art teachers noticed an increase in participation, but more importantly, there was a new-found excitement in the students. And of course, that is bleeding over to other classes. Students are using the journals for more than just their art classes, with teachers of other subjects commenting on students taking notes during their online classes and carrying them with them to lunch and recess. Courtney described the journals as being a safe place for her students where they can write down their thoughts and feelings during this strange time for them. “I always let them know it was okay to use whatever they did have at home, but now they show me all these art supplies they do have now and it is so awesome to see,” Niaren says. 

Something as simple as a journal made a real difference to these young students trying to work through online and virtual learning. “I just couldn’t believe the generosity of Mike and I’m so overwhelmed by the generosity of the company as a whole,” Haya told Whalebone.  “He even delivered them to school himself. I was really pleased.” But not only were the schools impacted, so was Mike: “There’s something so powerful about this. I just respect these teachers so much. They were going above and beyond to serve their students. We were so happy to work with these teachers because they were making such an effort on behalf of their students.”

The Scribes has donated more than 7,500 journals total so far and their efforts continue, with about 500 packs of markers also going out to these New York City schools in need. Sometimes something as simple as a journal and a few art supplies can be the thing that makes things seem more hopeful, no matter what the circumstance may be. Write about that in your journal.