In short supply: Some Valley teachers spend hundreds of dollars on school supplies

  • Alicia Lopez, an English Language learners teacher at Amherst Regional Middle school, shows the drawers of personal care items she keeps in her room for students and the “calming corner” she made both done through donations and her own resources. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alicia Lopez, a English language learners teacher at Amherst Regional Middle school, shows the “calming corner” she made with donations and her own resources. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alicia Lopez, a English Language learners teacher at Amherst Regional Middle school, keeps drawers in her classroom stocked with personal care supplies. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A desk that is part of a “calming corner” in Alicia Lopez’s English language learners classroom at Amherst Regional Middle school. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2019 4:34:28 PM

If Alicia Lopez didn’t spend any of her own money on her classroom at Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School, it would be “bland,” she said.

“It’s kind of a bright and cheery area where kids feel at home and feel like they have a safe space,” Lopez said, describing her English language learners room. “I’m not sure I’d be able to provide the same kind of space if I didn’t use my own money.”

Lopez’s walls are indeed colorful, with bright blue paper and a tapestry with flags from all around the world on it. All the decorations are hers, she said.

The school provides classrooms with basic items, including construction paper, pencils, markers and crayons.

“As far as other things, I usually make a trip to Target or the Dollar Store every year,” she said.

There, she buys storage bins, binders, notebooks and borders for bulletin boards. She also buys snacks for students.

Last school year, she started stocking the drawers in a desk at the back of the room with items like deodorant, hair elastics and toothbrushes to make a “personal care station” for students who may need it. At first, she bought the items, and now people have donated supplies.

Though the amount may vary, on average, Lopez said she spends about $300 each year on supplies.

“I think it’s really common,” she said. “I think every teacher spends at least a little bit.”

She is right. Ninety-four percent of public school teachers said they spent some of their own money on school supplies during the 2014-2015 academic year, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report released in 2018. Teachers who reported spending some of their own funds spent an average of $479.

In the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools, Superintendent Michael Morris said there is a set amount budgeted for educator’s supplies. But, he knows some teachers end up spending some of their own money.

“I know because teachers have told me they are spending out of pocket for certain supplies,” he said.

“I taught sixth grade and I definitely spent out of pocket in this district and I don’t think I was unique in that regard,” he added of his time working in Fort River Elementary.

Lopez said she feels lucky that her district provides the supplies they do.

“Amherst is a district that’s in a relatively in good space compared to other districts in terms of budget,” she said, adding that she thinks other schools more strapped for funding likely provide less for teachers.

In Pelham, the Parent Teacher Organization started a program last school year to pay for additional school supplies.

“We were just so happy,” said Giselle Gonzalez Vendrell, a Pelham Elementary School first grade teacher. Last year, the PTO gave all classroom teachers $175 to spend, said Jenny Franz, the PTO president.

Last year, Gonzalez Vendrell wanted her students to use earbuds for working on laptops, and she was able to use some of her PTO funding. “I just didn’t have to worry about, ‘oh it’s coming out of my own money,’” she recalled.

Many teachers use online platforms to fundraise. DonorsChoose.org is a popular website that educators use to crowdfund for projects and supplies.

Karrisa Fabin, the librarian at Northampton High School, has been using the website for about a decade while working in Northampton and other districts.

Many of the 20,000 library books need replacing.

“Our science section is so old it should be history,” she said. “Most of the nonfiction books are older than I am. But it’s a lot of money to replace these things.”

So along with applying for funding from the PTO and Northampton Education Foundation, she turns to DonorsChoose to supplement the budget she gets from the district.

Currently, she’s using DonorsChoose.org to raise money for more racially and gender diverse books in a campaign titled “Libraries Are For Everyone!

“The library at Northampton High, and probably the other schools, isn’t as diverse as you’d think it’d be,” she said, “There’s not a lot of LGBT-friendly books.”

Fabin wants the students to be able to see themselves in the books. “They’re going to come in and want to read books about them,” she said, “where the characters are similar to them.”

So far, she’s raised more than half of the money to meet her $563 goal.

Donations are helpful, she said, but, “It’s a lot of work. It’s usually time you’re not paid for. But if you really want to get your library up to snuff, you have to do that stuff.”

In Lopez’s classroom last school year, the personal care station was successful, and she’s continuing the project. This fall, she has created a new area in her classroom, “the calming corner.” There, students sit behind a divider from the classroom on a mat or pillow and relax for a minute if they need to.

“Social-emotional issues in kids are kind of on the rise,” Lopez said. “We’ve seen reports all over that kids are having a lot of anxiety for all kind of different reasons.”

What happens in kids’ lives outside of school can affect them in class, and the “calming corner” could help address those issues, she said. So over the summer, Lopez searched for items on Facebook and at Goodwill and Salvation Army.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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