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Teachers foot bill to equip classrooms

Shanita Nelson is just about to start her 26th school year as a second-grade teacher at Weisser Park Elementary School. Nelson teaches every subject – math, reading, science, writing, language, health and social studies – so she has a lot of preparation to do.

Each student receives a list of school supplies to bring on the first day of school, but that covers only a small portion of what will be used throughout the school year.

Pens, pencils, folders, poster board, paper, stickers, crates, books, art supplies, name tags, markers, erasers, tissues, chalk; the list could go on and on. The needs of the classroom are never ending, but who foots the bill?

According to public school teachers in Allen County, school districts cover about $100 of supplies in every classroom for every school year.

But a recent study done by AdoptAClassroom.org found that teachers across the United States spend an average of $1,000 out of pocket to equip their classrooms.

AdoptAClassroom.org is an online resource where donors can fund classroom needs by searching for schools, teachers, or even class subjects.

Teachers can also buy supplies through the website and build registries for supplies needed in their classrooms.

The study also found that teachers will spend a total of $3 billion nationwide to make sure that students have all of the supplies they need to be successful in the classroom. That $3 billion is coming right out of teachers’ pockets, which means a portion of the very paychecks they take home from the school is going right back into the school and its students.

Fort Wayne Education Association President Julie Hyndman said teachers are feeling the pressure from both federal and state standards. They must use many techniques and materials to help students who are learning at different rates and ability levels.

“High-ability children will need to be challenged to further their knowledge and expand on certain standards; likewise, struggling students will need help to address their learning needs,” Hyndman said. “Standard materials may be provided with a given curriculum package, but rarely would it be considered sufficient to meet all of these needs.”

Hyndman said that the highest expenses usually fall onto new teachers because they have to set up their classrooms from scratch.

“They may already have the burden of student loans as they begin their first job, then they must prepare their classrooms as well,” she said.

Erin Hitzfield, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Summit Middle School, said she spends about $200 a year to keep her classroom equipped with materials and supplies, but would spend more if she could.

“My goal as a language arts teacher is to create lifelong readers and writers,” Hitzfield said. “I hope to inspire students to be hungry for the written word and want to share their own words with the world.”

She is constantly building her classroom library in order to have the right book for each student.

“I also think students learn better in a comfortable, inviting atmosphere, so I try to create that space for them by buying décor items for the classroom.

“I know I don’t want to sit and work in a bland, boring room every day, so I can’t expect a 12- or 13-year-old to do that either. For example, this year I’m hoping to buy curtains for the windows.”

While schools do provide a ration of basic school supplies, there are many other needs that haven’t been met, and the burden falls onto the teacher.

“In the past, I have bought socks, gloves, hats, scarves,” second-grade teacher Shanita Nelson said. “One year, a little girl had to get up on her own so I got her an alarm clock so she could get to school on time. Whatever a student needs, a teacher will make sure to get it for that child.”

Nelson has been teaching for 25 years at Weisser Park, an arts magnet school that is part of Fort Wayne Community Schools. Over the years, she has built up her classroom based on the needs of the students.

“At the beginning of the year, kids feel a little uncomfortable when they don’t have all their supplies on the first day and usually the parents will send them in later.” Nelson said. “But they feel overjoyed to have something of their own that day.”

Nelson said there are some organizations that help teachers equip their rooms, such as DonorsChoose.org, Classwish, and iLovSchools.com, but it can take quite some time to receive items.

She frequents both garage sales and the Dollar Tree to stock her classroom cost-effectively. She also suggests asking parents of students to donate books, games and puzzles that they are no longer using.

“I believe that each grade level, within each building, should be given a budget and decide what best fits their needs for that school year,” Hyndman said. “I understand certain criteria is expected. When a new series is adopted, additional supplies are needed to establish that program.”

Hyndman also says that many teachers are writing grants for their classroom needs, but community partners also help with this endeavor.

“Through FWEA, our members can retrieve lesson plan ideas, additional training, and discounts or loans through the ISTA/NEA network, or Member Benefits,” she said.

While many teachers are putting a considerable amount of their own money back into their classrooms, there are many others that do not feel they make enough money to spend money on the school and many others who simply cannot afford to do so.

“I don’t know the answer,” Hitzfield said. “Perhaps looking for more community support or donations would help, but that would be dependent on the ability of the community your school is in to offer that support.”

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