Suffolk teachers get help to ‘clear their lists’

Published 10:20 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Suffolk teachers are getting help to clear their lists and get much-needed supplies for their classrooms, thanks to a city parent who wanted to make sure teachers had all the supplies they needed.

It works like this: Teachers post the list of supplies they need on Amazon and share a link to it on social media. People can then purchase the supplies on Amazon and have them sent straight to the teacher, and if they would like, can do so anonymously.

Brenda Cartwright Phelps, who has a child at Nansemond Parkway Elementary School and another at John Yeates Middle School, said she had given individually to teachers in past years, but saw that teachers elsewhere were getting help through similar avenues. A friend of hers had started a similar Facebook page for Chesapeake teachers, and Phelps wanted to do the same in Suffolk.

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“I know in Suffolk, a lot of times when you go to open house or something, they might have little stickies where you can pull different things,” Phelps said. “They may need pencils, or dry erase markers or different things, but I thought that it would be better if they had a wish list so that we could really get them what they really needed.”

About 200 Suffolk Public Schools teachers have posted their list to Phelps’ Adopt a Teacher Facebook page through Monday, with many saying they had received supplies for their classroom as a result.

“My heart has been warmed by the outpouring of fellow teachers,” said Barbara Espinosa, a first-grade teacher at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School. “Everything I have received has been from other teachers who care about me and the program I am developing in my room. Truly amazing people work in our system.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, Virginia teachers spend about $400 of their own money, on average, on supplies for their classrooms. The nationwide average is $459, and 94 percent of teachers will spend their own money on school supplies.

King’s Fork High School engineering teacher Dawn Rountree said it has been gratifying to see teachers, parents and community members coming together to help Suffolk teachers.

“For many years, I never knew what to say when a parent would ask me what I needed in my classroom,” Rountree said. “I would typically respond with something like, ‘Well, we use a lot of glue sticks.’ I never knew how to answer that question because I had never truly thought much about it. I was able to teach my class with what I had been provided, or buy the oddball things that I thought people would think I was crazy for needing — like a pack of lightbulbs that I planned to break.”

Rountree said that as she saw the Facebook page grow, she realized the extra things that make her classroom more than just a plain room were things she could ask for.

Two School Board members — David Mitnick and Sherri Story — also noted their participation in the program by helping clear the lists of a couple of teachers. He said if he could use his position as a board member to support good causes, he would.

“Having been a classroom teacher and a 36-year employee of education, I’m all for giving teachers whatever we can,” said Mitnick, who recalled his own classroom days and spending out of his own pocket to pay for supplies.

But there was some confusion as to whether Suffolk teachers could participate in the program after a pair of teachers posted on the Adopt a Teacher page that they had been told they could not participate.

Interim Superintendent Dr. LaToya Harrison, in a statement, clarified that Suffolk teachers are allowed to participate.

“As a division, we are in full support of teachers using online platforms to garner supplies for their classrooms,” Harrison said. “However, at this time, our division does not have a policy regarding individual classroom fundraisers, so there was some initial confusion regarding what types of requests are permitted.”

Harrison said additional guidance was sent to teachers explaining what type of requests teachers could make, noting that “requests are limited to seeking donations of items, not money,” and that requests should not include technology equipment or items valued at more than $5,000.

“Requests should be shared with principals so that they can coordinate any special needs related to the requested items … (and) in some cases, administrators might be able to fulfill the teacher’s request themselves, so it helps to make them aware of what’s being requested.”

The school division provides teachers with a $100 gift card to the online School Specialty store, and there is also a Teacher Supply Store, where teachers can pick up free items for their classrooms.

The division’s store accepts donations of school supply items and financial contributions from the community. From September through April of the last school year, teachers were allowed to spend about 20 points per month, equivalent to about $20 of newly purchased items, according to the school division.

Suffolk teachers have also posted wish lists for items on the website. Currently, there are 16 Suffolk Public Schools teachers that have items listed there. The Suffolk Education Foundation also offers grants to teachers. Rountree noted she used a grant from the foundation to build a wall mockup showing all the parts of a residential wall.

“It was an awesome experience to bring to my class and a cool project that I could not have done without their support,” Rountree said.

Phelps said she hopes to make another push to clear the lists during the middle of the school year.

“A lot of it is the same stuff over and over, and I would like to consider doing it mid-year when kids need a refresher on their crayons or paper, or something like that,” Phelps said, “because it’s a lot for the teachers to keep up with.”

Want to help?

The Adopt A Teacher – Suffolk, VA Facebook page has a listing of teachers who have posted links to supplies they need for their classrooms.

Suffolk Public Schools invites donations of gently used school supplies or financial contributions and seeks volunteers to work in the Teacher Supply Store. For more information, go to