Wear and tear on school supplies is one thing. A bigger challenge for teachers, school administrators and even community groups is making sure students have back-to-school materials in the first place.
Angela Kaitschuk, a first-grade teacher at Graham Elementary School, has a reason for putting four boxes of 16 crayons each on her list of back-to-school supplies.
Last Thursday was the second day of school at Graham, which follows a year-round calendar. After students were let out that afternoon, Kaitschuk produced a ripped box of crayons, the tips of which already were worn down.
“We ask for four of a lot of things,” Kaitschuk said.
Wear and tear is one thing. A bigger challenge for teachers, school administrators and even community groups is making sure students have back-to-school materials in the first place.
On the first day of school, only three of Kaitschuk’s students brought all the supplies on her list. Four arrived empty-handed.
Teachers often make up the difference. Kaitschuk and Christin Shirazi, another first-grade teacher at Graham, have spent at least $100 each on supplies already. The school district gives them a $75 supply stipend for the entire year.
Community organizations and schools also help provide the essentials to students who lack them. But there’s so much variety from school to school, these groups have a hard time getting everything.
In the Springfield School District, some schools ask for pointed scissors, some for scissors with blunted ends (all tend to request Fiskars scissors, regardless). Some ask for glue sticks. Some want traditional Elmer’s glue bottles. Some want hand-sanitizing gel. Some ask for Clorox wipes. One city school wants its first-graders to come with one composition notebook and two spiral notebooks — the number of pages per notebook isn’t specified. First-graders at another Springfield school need only bring one 70-page, wide-ruled spiral notebook.
“We started out asking every school for its list, but we got all these different lists,” said the Rev. John Charlton III of Harvard Park Baptist Church, who founded Springfield’s First Day Fund in 1993. This year, the fund will distribute more than 1,700 free back-to-school kits to area children.
To make things easier for Charlton, the Springfield School District provides him with generic, grade-specific lists of supplies, so students can receive at least a set of the basics. But the list is sometimes too generic.
One school principal, who didn’t want to sound ungrateful, showed how the best of intentions sometimes isn’t enough. Her stash included boxes of free backpacks that were so small that they could barely hold a standard tissue box. It will be a challenge to stuff them with books, winter gloves, homework and take-home folders. Still, she said she was glad to have them.
At Graham, nearly 90 percent of students come from low-income families. There aren’t enough involved parents to support a parent-teacher organization -- at some other schools, PTOs give teachers hundreds of dollars a year for supplies. Graham has had to turn to fundraisers, donations and teachers in order to build its own stash of extra.
Some Springfield School District officials are considering the possibility of streamlining supply lists. That certainly would make things easier for Charlton’s First Day Fund.
But school supplies also open a window to a larger problem -- nearly one-third of the students in the Springfield School District enroll in or leave a school during the school year, according to Illinois State Board of Education records. How to maintain consistency from school to school is one of School Superintendent Walter Milton’s biggest challenges.
“We are now developing a model where all of our schools are going to be aligned,” Milton said. “Over the next year or two, you’re going to see that there’s a much more systematic process … that the same supplies will be similar at different buildings.”
“I don’t think the supply would drive the learning,” said Kathy Crum, who oversees elementary schools in the district. “But there are some good reasons to think about a (consistent) supply list to go out to the general public.”
But plans for total alignment might have to stop short of unified school supplies. Teachers say they need some flexibility to use supplies that best fit their teaching approaches.
Some schools ask for different things, or more of one thing, based on need, added Jonnell Baskett, principal of Southern View Elementary School, where teachers have a $250 annual supply budget.
“Is (a standard list) possible? Yes. Would we get a lot of complaints? Yes,” Baskett said.
Crum said the district could consider having schools issue the same list at the beginning of the year and then, perhaps sometime in September, individual teachers could ask families to bring additional items for particular projects.
Kaitschuk warns against a cookie-cutter approach.
For example, Shirazi’s students use spiral notebooks only to record “word wall words.” Kaitschuk’s students, on the other hand, use their notebooks to build a collection of poems they’ll refer to throughout the year. Gale Kotner, a first-grade teacher at Southern View, uses two-sided folders to separate completed assignments from unfinished work.
All agree on one thing. It’s important for students to come prepared.
“When students do not come with their supplies, I don’t think they’re getting the message (from home) that school is important,” Kaitschuk said. “It puts up a red flag that that student might need some extra support.”
Pete Sherman can be reached at (217) 788-1539 or email@example.com.
School supplies — reading between the lines
Some schools are particular about their school supply lists. Enos and Sandburg Elementary schools request their first graders to bring “pink” erasers while “pink or green” erasers will do at Lindsay Elementary School.
Often, Springfield School District principals say, even if a list appears rigid, there’s some wiggle room. Many descriptions for items are merely “code” for getting the right kind of thing.
Here are some examples. (If parents remain in doubt, they should check with the teacher or the school principal):
--When a list says pink, green, or pink or green eraser, the point is to find a high quality, rubbery eraser that doesn’t crumble or isn’t waxy and therefore prone to leave smudges. Color probably doesn’t matter much, but good erasers tend to be pink or green. Pink erasers are generally easier to find.
--If a list specifies size — for instance, a 4-ounce bottle of Elmer’s Glue — it could simply mean the school is letting parents know they don’t have to buy anything larger. It could mean it’s the right size for children’s hands.
--There’s a lot of bad scissors out there, so teachers tend to specify “Fiskars,” a popular and reliable brand. What they really mean is high quality. Some schools specify blunt or pointed. Some don’t.
--The more teachers request something, the more they need it. If you’re willing to donate, you might want to check back with the teacher mid-year to see how they’re doing with those items.
--Though most people know this, when schools say they want No. 2 “lead” yellow pencils, pencils aren’t made out of lead anymore, but graphite. It’s just a generic term. The number “2” is the most important part.
Three first-grade school lists
Lindsay Elementary School
No. 2 pencils with erasers, yellow only
1 box washable markers, wide
2 large erasers, pink or green
2 boxes of 24 Crayola crayons
1 Elmer’s Glue bottle
1 5-by-8-inch plastic pencil box
1 large box of Kleenex (unopened)
1 Fiskars scissors
1 box snack and gallon zip closure bags
1 6-by-9-inch ruled steno pad
2 2-pocket folders
2 4-pack of dry-erase markers
1 pack of stickers, not cartoons
1 Clorox wipes container
Sandburg Elementary School
6-10 sharpened No. 2 lead pencils (no pencil sharpeners)
Set of 8 felt-tip markers, wide-tipped
2 large pink erasers
Box of 24 crayons
Bookbag that child will carry back and forth to school each day
Elmer’s school glue (4-ounce size) and 2 glue sticks
Large box of Kleenex
Scissors (Fiskars — pointed child’s scissors)
Boys: 1 box of snack size Ziploc bags; Girls: 1 box of quart size Ziploc bags
1 ream of 8 ½-by-11-inch white dual-purpose copy paper
2 dry-erase markers (green, blue or black)
Enos Elementary School
36 pencils, No. 2 lead, yellow, sharpened
3 pink erasers
2 packs of 24 Crayola (preferred)
1 backpack/bookbag (large enough for folder, name on it)
6 glue sticks, white
1 pencil box
2 large boxes of tissues
1 pair of Fiskars scissors, 4-inch blunt
1 box of slide-lock gallon size bags and 1 box of slide-lock pint size bags
1 spiral, wide-ruled notebook
2 two-pocket folders with clasp (red) and 2 two-pocket folders without clasp (yellow)
1 box of Wet Ones
1 centimeter/12-inch, clear plastic ruler