Hermiston parents will spend upwards of $30 at Walmart sending a fifth-grader to school with everything on their school supplies lists this year. It’s not a number everyone can pay, and an incoming kindergarten teacher at the district, Celie Faircloth, knows this well.
When kids showed up without the supplies on their lists, she said, she found herself making up for the cost during her time teaching in Ontario before coming to Hermiston this year.
“Mostly the lower income families couldn’t afford it,” Faircloth said. “It’s not something you worry about when you’re busy paying your bills.”
At the Hermiston School District, some principals allocate a classroom budget to teachers. Faircloth has invested hers in chair pockets, which her students will use to hold supplies.
“I didn’t have that at my old district. I was shocked when I found that out,” she said.
Going into the year, she said she prefers to have 10 or 12 sets of school supplies she can pop into a student’s cubby on the first day if they don’t have any, so no one feels left out.
But it’s not just about the staples.
“Anything that makes your classroom colorful and welcoming usually comes out of teacher pockets,” Faircloth said. “If you were to have just a government-funded classroom, you would have blank walls and everything would be white or brown.”
She estimates that in the past, she’s spent between $500 and $600 a year out of her own pocket funding her classroom.
Faircloth’s estimates agree with national statistics.
The National Teacher and Principal Survey released 2016-2017 school year data suggesting 94% of teachers spend money out of pocket on classroom supplies. The data is currently being re-evaluated, but a previous finding from the same survey shows that during the 2006-2007 school year, 92% of teachers in rural areas spent and average of $407 yearly on supplies for their classrooms.
Nationally, different campaigns are being launched to gift teachers school supplies from wish lists created on Amazon.
On the community Facebook page What’s Happening Hermiston, teachers from Umatilla to Union counties are linking their lists on a thread where community members are interested in helping out.
They’re looking for everything from pencils and desk organizers to books and visual aids — things that make a classroom a habitat for learning — but that the untrained eye might not think twice about.
Faircloth said she doesn’t blame the schools for the lack of available funding. And she doesn’t blame parents either.
“I would like to see a program where parents can get some assistance getting school supplies,” she said. “I feel for those parents who can’t provide it.”
Jamie Campbell has two children heading to school this month and is concerned about getting her kids the supplies they need.
She moved back to Hermiston to care for her aging father after living in Florida for eight years. In the past, Campbell said, she’s worked as a receptionist, but was unable to find a position in the area. Instead, she’s working at a local dollar store part time. She has back and knee problems, but that won’t stop her.
“Now that I’m working on my feet, it’s constant pain but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Campbell said.
She said her son, who’s headed to high school, wants to make sure he has everything he needs. But between her income and her husband’s Social Security, she’s not sure she can make it happen as she continues to pay the rent and put payments on the car.
“It’s kind of an embarrassment when all of the kids have their supplies, and you’re just sitting there,” she said.
She reached out on social media, asking about what parents who can’t afford school supplies should do, and some people in the community offered to help her out.
At this point, Campbell’s not sure what she’ll end up doing. She said she prefers paying her own way and is hoping to pick up more hours at work.
“I love how the community pulls together, but make it more well known to people,” she said. “I’m sure other parents are going through (this).”
To form school supplies lists at Hermiston School District this year, staff from each elementary school met with Bryn Browning, assistant superintendent, to pinpoint what supplies were most necessary for each grade level district-wide.
This year, the district was able to lessen the burden on parents through purchasing agreements with different companies and will be providing Clorox Wipes and extra Kleenex tissues for students. The district also recently moved away from having parents purchase headphones individually, to having parents pay $3 for ones provided by the school.
According to Browning, this move helped to eliminate the difference in size and quality of headphones among students, as the district will be purchasing almost 3,000 pairs of headphones for grades K-5.
Browning said local partners donate and fundraise for school supplies, which are dispersed yearly across the five elementary schools in the district for students who can’t provide items on the school supply list.
The Hermiston Church of the Nazarene recently wrapped up a school supplies drive for Rocky Heights Elementary School.
“We’re just collecting it here in the church,” said office manager Gabrielle Fritz. “We know school supplies are getting expensive.”
On Aug. 24, the Hermiston Education Foundation will be hosting a run called the Back to School Supply Dash to gather school supply donations for elementary and middle schools in the district. The entry fee for the event, which starts at 9 a.m. at the Hermiston Church of the Nazarene, is either $5 or $5 worth of supplies.
Lacey Sharpe, principal at Stanfield Elementary, said that her school receives donations from larger entities like the Walmart Distribution Center, and from a local church that donates backpacks full of supplies.
Investing in classroom sets of common supplies helps alleviate the burden for teachers and parents too, she said.
“We’ve been able to cut our lists back, which has been helpful for families,” Sharpe said. “Once you have a class set of scissors, you don’t need them on the list anymore. Schools really appreciate the things parents buy to help support their kids in the classroom. We utilize everything.”