- May 13, 2017
Greenbrook's Samuel Clementi was proud as he shoved his right foot forward to show off the Skechers Energy Lights that his mom had just purchased at The Mall at University Town Center.
Katie Clementi had taken her two school-aged children, 7-year-old Samuel and 4-year-old Ava, to the mall Aug. 6 to do some back-to-school shopping while taking advantage of Florida's sales tax holiday from Aug. 4-6. Her 1-year-old, Nora, isn't quite ready for back-to-school shopping.
Eventually, though, Katie Clementi will have a school list for all three. "It can be a pretty hefty list," she said as she sifted through clothing at Gymboree.
While Skechers Energy Lights, which run about $65 and feature a sole that lights up, aren't on any school's list, Katie Clementi admitted it was something her son, who attends Robert Willis Elementary, wanted badly, as do many of his classmates.
Back-to-school shopping is not only about notebooks and pens. It also means fashion.
Schools in the Manatee County School District are sensitive to the parents' plight. Mike Rio, the executive director of elementary schools for the district, said each elementary school presents its own list of needs while keeping in mind that it could become a financial burden on some parents.
"One size doesn't fit all," Rio said of the different schools' needs. "And it does get costly. We really need the parents' support."
Rio was principal at Mills Elementary in the 2015-16 school year. "We asked our fifth graders, after getting input from parents, to buy a tablet (a general-purpose computer contained in a touchscreen panel)," he said. "We told the parents we knew it would put a hardship on some of them.
"There were 17 kids who couldn't afford it, and they were all taken care of."
Rio said the district empowers its teachers to find ways to take care of students who don't arrive for the new semester with the essentials. "There are also so many great organizations that support this effort," Rio said. "Some of the schools have healthy PTOs which contribute thousands of dollars. Some don't."
It all can mean additional stress for parents as their children head for the first day of school. Manatee County School District schools open Aug. 10.
Debbie Tudor, whose daughter Hope Tudor will be entering the sixth grade at Braden River Middle School, remembers when she used to prepare for her own first day of school.
“When I went to school, we just had to bring a pencil,” said Tudor, who is 56. “Hope’s school supply list had everything from copy paper and headphones to a flash drive and spiral-bound folders.”
Nicholas Leduc, a fourth-grade teacher at Braden River Elementary, said he tries to make it easy on his students.
Leduc said the entire staff at Braden River Elementary discusses items that should be included on a back-to-school list. After 21 years as a teacher, Leduc said his list is shorter than ever.
“I have finally realized what the kids actually need, and I have become more sensitive to the cost of things,” he said.
Tudor said her list might have been extensive, but it wasn't a financial burden.
“We don’t mind buying supplies, and they are actually pretty cheap,” she said.
However, she said the “real expense” lies in the clothing.
“We have to go buy a bunch of school clothes that abide by the dress code," she said. "It’s not like we can just whip something out of the closet.”
Leduc said he does his best to discourage the “fancy, dancy stuff.”
“I’d rather our students express themselves through who they are rather than through their stuff,” he said.
East County's LaRae Davenport, whose daughter, Harper, is headed for kindergarten at Bradenton Christian, said the parents can make the shopping process a lot more complicated than it needs to be.
"We all want the right purse, the right car, the right house," she said. "And our kids don't really know what something costs. So at the end of the day, the practicality of being a parent has to win out."
Tudor said she most likely won't be done shopping even after the first day of school.
“I know the kids are going to need more than the initial list that was posted online,” she said. “Once they have seen each of their six teachers, they are going to be sent home with a list and we will be doing a mad scramble over here to get school supplies.”
Braden River High School Principal Sharon Scarbrough has two children, Ciarra and Holden Scarbrough, who are entering their senior year at Lakewood Ranch High School.
She said they had a rather light shopping list of folders, paper, pens, pencils and highlighters, which was quite different than she remembers buying when they were in elementary school.
“Sometimes when they’re younger, they think they need all the cool, pretty things,” Scarbrough said. “Now, they want a couple of colored folders and notebooks — it simplifies a little bit.”
Lakewood Ranch High School incoming senior Taylor Trevithick said his shopping list wasn't that long because in high school there isn't much need for glue, scissors and “decorative” things.
“We need a ton of lined paper that is college ruled,” Trevithick said. “We use a ton of it throughout the year. That is the one thing I am always having to replenish.”
Outside the basic lists, parents sometimes have to deal with trends.
Last year’s elementary school trend was the fidget spinners and slime, Hope Tudor said.
“We had some slime-makers at our school,” she said. “Slime was everywhere, so teachers eventually banned it.”
This year, Trans by JanSport backpacks, dry fit gym shorts and Converse sneakers are among middle school student trends.
“A lot of girls like Converse, crop tops and chokers these days,” Hope Tudor said. “Boys are always wearing those dry fit gym shorts that go down to their knees.”
Trevithick said JanSport backpacks are common, even in high schools.
Mechanical pencils, of all things, are trending as well.
“That's a big one,” Trevithick said. “They are more convenient, look cool, and the sharpeners at my school aren’t the greatest.”
With the students well-equipped or not, the schools forge ahead.
“Our society in general thinks we need all these things for the kids,” Scarbrough said. “But at the end of the day, all we want is for them to come ready to learn.”