The good folks at Edmund A. Burns Elementary are busy getting ready for the new school year.

The staff has come up with some innovative new curriculum they are eager to test. Crews are cleaning the hallways; teachers are working on lesson plans and spiffing up their classrooms.

But there are some things you can't prepare for.

Some of the nearly 600 students who show up at Burns each year have never seen a book. Last year the school had about a dozen kids who were homeless.

Once, they even got a child who didn't know his name.

See, Burns Elementary serves some of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in North Charleston - Waylyn, Dorchester Terrace, Wando Woods - and that presents problems that some other schools are lucky to avoid.

It is hard enough to teach children under ideal conditions; it's nearly impossible when a child can't do homework because there is no electricity in her home.

The staff realizes a lot of schools have similar problems.

"I just feel like they are maximized here," says first-grade teacher Jonathan Dugan.

But through a lot of hard work, much of which is not in their job descriptions, the staff at Burns Elementary is making good progress. They deserve a hand.

And they could use one, too.

Short on supplies

In most places, the community rallies around its school.

Here, as math and science coach Jacquie Hughes says, the school rallies around the community.

On any given day, the staff at Burns may be looking for affordable housing for one of their student's family, or gathering up food to send home with a child who may not eat otherwise, or trying to raise money to help get another family's water turned back on.

Assistant Principal Megan Lambert walks one little girl to the bus each day special because she simply doesn't want to leave.

You see, Burns Elementary is a safe haven in a neighborhood that has seen its share of trouble. Kids know that.

The city helps, local churches pitch in, the school district has been great. There's a sorority that has adopted the school, and the Reading with Realtors program - in which local agents read with and mentor students - has taken a special interest in Burns.

"There's such a big need there," says Michael Fenwrick, chairman of Reading with Realtors. "The staff is tremendous. The kids are the bottom line. Whatever they need to learn, they do it."

Tax dollars pay for teacher salaries, the building, most of the furniture. Every teacher in the state gets $250 a year for classroom supplies. It doesn't go very far over nine months.

Most schools hit up parents for an extra $25 or $30 for supplies at the beginning of the school year. That's hard to do at Burns. See, 98 percent of the students there are on free or reduced lunches.

Most Burns parents give what they can - $5, even $1 a week. But when it comes down to composition books or having a place for your child to sleep, it's not much of a contest.

For years, a local nonprofit has donated school supplies to Burns. But this year, hard times hit the nonprofit, too and Burns is out of luck.

So now the staff is scrambling, and they are gathering what they can. But you need a lot of supplies for 580 kids.

And school's about to start.

Breaking the cycle

The test scores at Burns reflect the challenges the staff faces. But it's worth noting that its growth scores have recently jumped from "at-risk" to "average."

That is a pretty remarkable couple of steps up the ladder.

The teachers teach the kids personal responsibility, working with them individually as much as time allows. It's made a difference. And the school is justifiably proud.

"I couldn't imagine doing anything else," says Principal Lynn Owings.

Yes, these folks deserve a hand - and a little help.

They could use composition notebooks, half-inch binders, pocket folders, pencils, crayons, markers, and the sort of things no one thinks of as school supplies: hand sanitizer, zip-lock bags, Clorox wipes.

If you want to help, get in touch with Tiffany Taylor. She's a teacher and reading specialist (everyone at Burns has at least two jobs). She's at Tiffany_Taylor@charleston.k12.sc.us or (843) 745-7113.

The way kids break out of the cycle of poverty is through education, and at Burns Elementary they are trying. They could just use a little help.

It's hard to imagine a more worthy cause.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.