Every year I go back and forth over school supply shopping. It’s exciting for the kids (especially when they’re younger), because no matter how big (like backpacks) or small (like pink erasers), it’s always an event picking out the “new stuff”. Still, I dread the crowded, picked-over stores – not to mention the feeling of excess and waste when I look at the school supply lists. Are our school districts being smart about school supply lists?
My three kids will attend three Evanston schools this year. I have a sophomore at Evanston Township High School; an 8th grader at Nichols Middle School; and a 5th grader at Washington Elementary. I’m braced for bell schedules, calendars, conferences and fundraisers in triplicate. My sanity will depend on a heavy dose of planning – not to mention logistics rivaling UPS.
At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, I had the chance to take advantage of TWO bulk school supply programs designed to make the start of our 2013-2014 academic year that much smoother. Had I been a better mom, I might have filled out those forms for my 8th grader and my 5th grader so that – like magic – their school supplies would be waiting for them on the first day of school. I know I never filled out a form for my 8th grader…and since my 5th grader’s my youngest child, the fact that I haven’t even gotten around to baptizing him yet tells me it’s highly unlikely I pre-ordered his school supplies…
What a classic “mom” move, right? I just had to go and make the 2012-2013 school year the priority last year, didn’t I? Just had to focus on those end-of-school-year parties…on locating misplaced soccer cleats…on another Noodles & Co. fundraiser…and on a (Mother’s Day!) weekend’s worth of dance recitals. By ignoring all those email reminders and flyers about the bulk school supply program, I sealed my own fate…and now I’ll pay the (hefty, marked-up) price. This week I’ll have to top off my tank after downing horrifying amounts of caffeine, then drive all over town, hunting down the school supplies I’m sure no one will have.
Looking at these lists, it makes perfect sense to order in bulk, right? Otherwise, consider all the excess packaging on top of the plastic bags used to carry items home from Target, Office Max or Office Depot, not to mention the fuel burned by each individual family purchasing items. And yet, after 10 years sending my kids to school, I’ve seen firsthand how a backpack full of school supplies fortifies a student’s self-confidence as he or she walks through the doors on the first day.So, is it better to pre-order supplies or shop with your student? Before your answer that, consider some commentary from a couple of Evanston moms. First, Jodi Glenn Fox posted this self-described rant over school supplies on Facebook. Then, Debi Lewis posted this video of shopping for her two District 65 students on the District 65 Parents Facebook page. Below her video, Lewis commented: “Two stores, 90 minutes, $134, plus coupon clipping, list aggregation, and I still didn't get exactly what we needed for every item.” Whether you agree with these moms’ outlooks or not, their efforts signal a call to action: is there a better way to manage our schools’ student-supplied materials?
Recently, I posted this comment on my Facebook page: “School Supply Shopping. I'm writing an opinion column about all the wasted time/money/effort/resources we sacrifice each year just to fill our children's classrooms with STUFF. Believe me -- I'm all about starting the year enthusiastically and getting SOME supplies (particularly clothing/backpacks/etc.) but what has happened to American school districts?”
One of the first responses was from a friend in Florida: “We as teachers are grateful for your "wasted" time/money/effort/resources because if the parents don't provide the needed supplies such as pencil, paper, folders, SOAP, tissues, etc., guess who ends up buying them? We do! So I don't view it as a waste, I view it as contributing to your child's academic success. They do NOT need half the stuff being marketed for back to school supplies... and they certainly do not NEED new backpacks or lunchboxes each and every year... Those are wants vs. needs. Graphing calculators can be expensive but can be used middle through high school. I feel that many parents waste money on video games and other gadgets or expensive clothing or sneakers, but complain about contributing the "stuff" that keeps their kids healthy and learning. Do you know how much snot there is in an elementary school? It's a germ factory! and if parents don't provide the hand sanitizer and tissues, we end up buying them because we care about the kiddos. Many people don't want higher taxes to fund public education, so either way it comes out of our pockets as parents shopping for "back to school" supply lists or by paying higher taxes and adequately funding the schools. Which isn't happening anywhere I've heard of, so thanks to the many parents who either can't or won't contribute, the teachers end up buying the "stuff" so we can provide your children with an enriching environment in which to learn. Just sayin...”
Another friend from Illinois added, “As a teacher, we don't even get a say in what goes on the school supply list anymore in my district. [Administrators] determine what goes on the list. So things that may not be needed are on it and things that are needed aren't on it, but our opinion doesn't matter anymore.”
I can only hope the teachers’ opinions in Districts 65 and 202 – particularly concerning our students’ needs – are heard.
And listen, everyone’s busy – teachers, parents, and school board members alike. But the way I see it: if someone figured out a way to make one calendar that includes ETHS/District 65/Evanston Public Library/Evanston 150 AND the Mayor’s Summer Programs (was that you, Mindy Wallis???), I’m certain it’s possible to design a streamlined school supply program to save everyone’s sanity – not to mention a few school district dollars…