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All Eyes on the School Supplies

For my first grader, it was kind of a big deal. Every day, a classmate I’ll call Joey asked to borrow a different color marker. He always gave it right back to her, but he was heavy-handed, so sometimes the marker wasn’t in great shape when it was returned. 

This went on for a few weeks, and occasionally, Robin would ask me if she could take in a marker from our home stash to replace the one in her pencil box at school. 

After this happened with what seemed like all the colors in her newly purchased Crayola 10-pack, I started to worry a little bit. My daughter hadn’t expressed any negative feelings about Joey or about loaning out her markers, but she wasn’t one to speak up for herself. I was concerned that Joey the habitual borrower was taking advantage of my baby’s good nature.  

Anyway, I promise you I did not head to back-to-school night that September evening with a specific goal of checking out Joey’s pencil box or meeting one of his parents, but yeah, I was curious. I knew Joey sat next to Robin, so when we grownups were jammed into our kids’ seats, I waited for the occupant of the desk labeled “Joey” to arrive.

Well, back-to-school night was a great success and Robin’s teacher was a delight, but I never did get a visual on Joey’s family. This, as it happened, might have been a good thing – depending on how you looked at it. A few minutes into the teacher’s introductory talk, a mom’s hand shot up. 

“Why did we have to send in twelve glue sticks?” she asked. “Is my son really going to use twelve glue sticks this year? And four boxes of pencils? And… ” 

A bunch of parents’ heads were nodding. And to be honest, I had also wondered what happened to the many and varied school supplies I had sent to classrooms in the past. I knew for a fact that neither Robin nor her older sister had ever come home in June with a backpack full of blank composition books, unused pencils, or even a single fluorescent highlighter. Had they actually used all that stuff we had purchased on the school supply list? 

It turns out, they hadn’t. 

As this teacher explained, the extra supplies went into a communal cabinet where all the students could snag items they needed as the school year unfolded. Maybe this was unique to this teacher and her classroom, but it made perfect sense to me. It also meant I could send in a box or two of markers for the common good, and Joey would soon have a set to call his own. And like I said, this happened early in our back-to-school experience when the supplies were affordable and buying the whole list at the start of the year wasn’t quite the financial hardship it can be as your student gets older. 

In any case, something we all know is that when education departments and families can’t afford learning supplies, teachers are often the ones who find a way to even out things in the classroom, spending their own money on basics, books, educational games, and more. 

Last year, my youngest daughter graduated from high school. This August, I found myself buying very few traditional school supplies. Emotionally crushed by that loss (not really, but it was weird), I turned to the Internet and found two fantastic ways to fill this void by helping students and teachers: 

1. At, you’ll find classroom projects you can help fund. It’s easy to search by zip code, city, or state. Using, anyone can support a classroom in need anywhere in the country. In fact, I first heard about it through my niece who teaches at a public school in Florida. You might decide to help a teacher at a school in Richmond buy a story time rug for her classroom, or subscribe a reading class to TIME for Kids. Or you might be surprised when you key in your zip code and see that your family’s elementary school has a music teacher who wants to introduce the ukulele to her kids, but she needs some start-up money. When you visit this website, make sure you click “match offers,” and you’ll see a list of projects whose donations will be matched by corporations and foundations. When you donate, the teacher almost always sends a thank you note. You can also donate anonymously.

2. You can use the Amazon Wish List to support teachers and their students. Last month on Twitter, #clearthelists was trending. This hashtag made it easy to digitally locate teachers all over the country who had set up public Amazon Wish Lists filled with classroom supplies and learning materials. This month, make a point to ask your child’s teacher if he or she has an Amazon Wish List and help clear that list. 

This year, I hope you’ll find a way to help a teacher, whether she’s in your child’s classroom or at a school you’ve never even visited in a community with families who need support. If you’re like me – still thinking about Joey all these years later – it will do your heart, not to mention our students and teachers, a whole lot of good. 

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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