Teachers say paying for school supplies “is the nature of the beast”

May 30, 2018 - School Supplies

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A report released earlier this month by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that 94 percent of teachers spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms.

It showed that teachers who did buy their own supplies spent an average of $479 a year, on anything from books to tech to pencils and stickers.

Schools in the north country are no exception to the trend, as elementary instructors from two north country schools told the Times.

Stacey J. Burns, a first-grade teacher at Sherman Elementary School, said she spends hundreds of dollars each year on her students.

“Based on my taxes, it’s always way over $200,” Mrs. Burns said. “We’re spending our own money across the board. And sometimes it’s even on things for individual students, like if one child needs a backpack or snowpants.”

Mrs. Burns, who has been a teacher for more than 10 years, said “every year, there seems to be more and more students coming to school with less. There was a significant portion of them last year who lacked basic supplies.”

Mrs. Burns isn’t alone. A 2017 survey conducted by Donors Choose showed that almost two-thirds of participating teachers bought clothing for their students, and half had bought them food or hygiene supplies.

Outside funds from businesses, parent-teacher groups, and nonprofits can also help close the gap in the classroom. Mrs. Burns said that requisition funds, which are allocated by a school district for classroom supplies, have decreased at the Watertown City School District during her time there. But she said she still feels supported by the district, and the Sherman Elementary parent-teacher association.

Her classroom was selected to receive funds from the Burlington store (formerly the Burlington Coat Factory) and Kohl’s to purchase “purposeful play” items, which are meant to encourage cooperation and communication skills in young children.

“We now have a carpet with a map, a number line the students can stand on, puppets, and gears and WikkiStix to build with,” she said.

In Madrid-Waddington Elementary School, Kristina A. Kowalchuck said she’s found local churches to be ready donors of school supplies.

“They’re very good about helping us once they see our supply list for the year,” said Ms. Kowalchuck, a first-grade teacher. In her 39 years of teaching, Ms. Kowalchuck said she has “constantly” bought crayons and books for her students, and even cards and small gifts for the children to give to their families on holidays,

“I know I do spend a lot more than other teachers might, but I’d rather spend more and give my students certain experiences,” she said.

She estimates that she spends over $1,000 each year on a variety of items. Like Mrs. Burns, Ms. Kowalchuck also said her district had decreased its requisition funding over the years. She said she feels well-supported overall at Madrid-Waddington, though.

“I think we all wish there was more money allocated for that spending,” Ms. Kowalchuck said, “but ultimately that money does come from the taxpayers, who are our students’ parents.”

Carthage Teachers’ Association President Patricia A. Sheehan said that being mindful of what parents spend is important to teachers.

“For families with two or three children, all these supplies can be costly. And we’re just trying to help out in some way,” Ms. Sheehan said. She said her colleagues in the CTA “don’t complain” about buying supplies “because it’s so common now. It’s just part of what we do.”

The CTA established the Student Supply Closet to keep students stocked up on items throughout the school year. Ms. Sheehan said that her district has also continued to support its teachers financially, even increasing the amount allocated for elementary school supplies last year.

“But that money just doesn’t go as far as it used to anymore,” she said. “And unfortunately our students’ needs continue to grow.”

Along with local community organizations, national nonprofits like Donors Choose and AdoptAClassroom help financially support teachers who need supplies.

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