Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary’s Kristen Chapman has been working on her kindergarten classroom for the past three weeks in preparation for the students’ return Aug. 13.
She hung volleyball lights around her whiteboard and paper lanterns from the ceilings. Her fellow teachers passed through her classroom, all excited about Chapman’s new cubbies for her students’ storage. She has been working hard to make sure her students feel they have a “home.”
Chapman spends more than $200 a year of her own money decorating her classroom.
“At the elementary school level it’s different because we have to make it like a second home for our kids,” Chapman said. “I’m like their second mom. So far, I’ve already spent $150.”
She also is very aware that she is not the only one putting out funds when school is about to begin. She worries that her kindergarten students, and their parents, aren’t really sure what to bring with them, and what it will cost.
So Chapman sends them a back-to-school supply list that includes the usual items, such as markers, pencils and crayons, as well as the need for more unexpected items such as tissues and construction paper.
Braden River Elementary teacher Audrey Quale said those in her profession use every single thing found on those back-to-school supply lists.
“If there are Kleenex boxes on the list, it’s because we’ll use three or four boxes a week during cold and flu season.,” she said. “If there are markers on the list, it’s because we ran low at the end of last year. If there isn’t something like pencils, it’s because we have a bunch left over from previous years.”
Chapman said teachers try to keep in mind the monetary impact buying supplies can have on families, so sometimes teachers will try to alternate items on the lists she sends to her students.
“Some years I will have boys bring tissues and girls bring Band-aids just so they don’t have to do it all at once,” Chapman said.
Gwen Ingham, a first-grade teacher at McNeal Elementary said she always tries to remember that parents are on budgets, too. When it came time to send out her supplies lists, she noticed she had plenty of pencils from last year.
“I looked to see what I really needed,” Ingham said. “We understand that it can get expensive for the families. Everything that we ask for will be used.”
In terms of their own decorating, teachers have to be aware of any themes instituted by the school. At Braden River Elementary, the theme this year is “Dive into Knowledge” which requires ocean and beach themes in the classrooms.
Carrie Ling, a fourth-grade teacher at Braden River Elementary, went on the internet to find items that would match those themes. She has spent about $200 on decorations, which include paper anchors hanging from the ceiling and a small palm tree made out of construction paper.
Sometimes, the teachers receive help from groups, such as Braden River Elementary’s Parent Teacher Organization, which gave each teacher $150 to spend on back-to-school decorations. The teachers at McNeal said their PTO also provides money as well, and it varies from year to year depending on fundraising.