Public school teachers spent an average of $485 out of pocket on materials for their classrooms last year according to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, and though that spending exists locally, area schools go outside of the box to make sure their classes are well supplied.
From social networking and charity websites like DonorsChoose.org to help from the community, educators are using outside tools to help fill in the gaps when supplying their classrooms.
DonorsChoose.org is a national online charitable organization where public and charter schools can post proposals for projects and classroom supplies at no cost and then receive donations from any interested party.
In Marietta, Phillips Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lyndsey Bennett is currently in the process of trying to obtain an iPad and case for her classroom through the website.
“I can use an iPad for personal use in the classroom to keep track of data, but the kids can use different apps to use for different grade levels,” she said.
Bennett said she knows some teachers use the site for basic supplies, but she utilizes it purely for supplemental items.
“(The district) does a nice job of trying to keep us updated with everything we need, but technology is always difficult,” she said.
In addition to the iPad project, which currently needs $613 to complete for a fourth-generation iPad and Smart Cover, Bennett has already received complete funding for two other projects.
Items granted by the site go into the possession of the school, not the teacher, and if a project’s goal is not met within the time limit, donors are allowed to give their portion to the school in the form of a gift card that they can apply to future projects.
Dawn Spurr, a fourth grade teacher at Beverly-Center Elementary, has used the site twice this year for two projects. She is currently working toward getting an external hard drive to store students’ work and a document imaging camera to help streamline hard copies to smart boards.
Spurr said Fort Frye Local always makes sure the essentials are there, but she still gets things on her own.
“Our district is good about getting us the stuff we have to have. But there are extra things that I want, and you try to find every avenue to pay for it,” she said. “Sometimes I’ve begged, sometimes my parents have helped me.”
A large portion of the projects on the site are used for technology that many rural schools don’t have.
“In Southeastern Ohio, I know we don’t receive as much funding as say, other schools,” Spurr said. “But we have pluses here that they don’t. I don’t need it, but I want to be able to use it.”
That economic gap that exists in households too can further complicate the problem.
“Annually, depending on grade level, there’s a list of supplies that we ask students to provide. Those who can’t provide it, teachers will improvise, and with many of them it comes out of their own pocket,” said Bob Caldwell, superintendent of Wolf Creek Local Schools.
Those actions, Caldwell said, often stem from the passion teachers have for their work.
“Teachers are very sensitive to not doing things that will embarrass young people,” he said.
Stephanie Starcher, superintendent of Fort Frye Local Schools, said though she was not aware that Spurr used DonorsChoose.org, she does like the idea.
“In small communities like Fort Frye, we have to ask the same local vendors for donations to help us out for events and supplies in addition to taxes and it can get burdensome,” she said. “What I like about that site is that people who are really interested in a project can choose what they want to do to help.”
Starcher said anything that falls into the realm of “usable curriculum”-workbooks, art supplies, calculators-all fall to the district to provide, and the general fee collected from students goes toward needed materials. But with some students exempted from those fees and the district having limitations for spending, there are still gaps.
“We provide everything required, but sometimes there are add-ons, and teachers will spend their own money,” Starcher said. “Having been a teacher myself, I know teachers do end up spending a lot of their own money to provide for their students.”
Starcher said the district has been working with teachers to provide innovative resources to get materials. At a recent professional development day, teachers learned about the popular social networking site Pinterest, which has downloadable teaching and classroom project materials free for teachers to use and collaborate on.
To help curtail the need for teacher spending, Caldwell said just like other area districts, community members and businesses are very generous in helping to close the gap on school supplies.
“There are a lot of organizations that help. AEP provides grants that science educators apply for annually, and Walmart has given gift cards in the past for student supplies,” he said. “And occasionally we have residents that will donate larger items to the school in memory of the school, or just to be generous.”