Needed back-to-school supplies a sign of the (changing) times

Updated Aug 14, 2016

In her Dunwoody Elementary School classroom, Elaine Mach has a haul of school supplies many teachers would envy.

There are bins full of crayons and markers, pencils and pens. Rolls of paper towels, hand sanitizer and Clorox Wipes are necessary in a second-grade classroom, too, she said.

While the list she gave her students as school started a week ago is similar to ones given out for years, some teachers are asking parents for things educators used to buy, because they’ve noticed some schools provide less, or some students need more.

“What I’m asking for more is the specific type of pencil or cleaning supply,” Mach said. “I didn’t ask them to bring any odd items.”

But she understands.

Education and the student population is evolving, and it takes more to properly educate children than it ever has. A 2011 survey by Adopt A Classroom, which helps provide resources to teachers across the country, found 91 percent of teachers they surveyed reported buying food and clothing for their students. Various studies point to hungry children being unable to learn. And with the increasing focus on standardized testing as a measure for student and teacher progress, some say they purchase other supplies — or meals — to help guarantee success.

Lists sent out to parents this year sought copy paper, dry-erase markers, tennis balls, even access to laptops for instruction.

The tennis balls, Mach said, are for the bottoms of chair legs to reduce the sound moving desks make.

“I’ve heard where teachers have said they hear the chairs (in classrooms above them) moving,” she said.

Copy paper, Flat Shoals Elementary School Principal Laconduas Freeman said, is for homework lessons. Not every school gives its teachers copy paper to make lesson plans, she said.

In Clayton County, officials say teachers offer up an optional “wish list” for parents, including miscellaneous supplies to offset what may not be included on the list of supplies students need for their daily lessons.

“We know it’s tough for some of our families,” Clayton County Public Schools spokeswoman Jada Dawkins said. “We are one district that really tries to rely on local partnerships. Thanks to our partners in education, every teacher and every student (was) distributed materials to help prepare them for the first day of school.”

This year, the district worked to secure free breakfast and lunch for all students in all grade levels.

“We try to make it so they have to worry about as little as possible,” she said.

According to National Center for Education Statistics, more than half of public school children were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Mach said she pays a few hundred dollars for supplies each year, and that doesn’t count the supplies she buys for her own school-age children.

One daughter had to bring five packs of crayons. Sometimes, the list is made to have replacements in case one breaks. Sometimes, there might be another student without supplies.

Some teachers in metro Atlanta schools also find themselves purchasing lunch or breakfast for some of their students. That means the money they used to spend on chalk and erasers has shifted to other necessities.

“Life has just hit a lot of communities,” said Freeman, of Flat Shoals. “A lot of families rely on the school to offset some of their typical needs. (The request for classroom supplies) is a balancing act. We want (students) to not want for anything.”

Mach understands. When she worked in a Title I school, which receives additional funding for its higher-than-normal number of students from low-income families, students were more likely not to have supplies.

“If half the students (there) bring the supplies, that’s a good thing,” she said.