ELKHART — Teachers at Elkhart Community Schools are picking up the tab for school supplies for kids who can’t afford their own. Community education manager for Elkhart Community Schools Bruce Klonowski estimated that many teachers, especially those who teach the lower grades, spend between $300 and $400 each year on supplies for students. This is especially difficult since the teachers haven’t received a pay raise in the past five years.
“Teachers feel like they don’t have a choice,” Klonowski said Tuesday, July 23. “Especially in the urban (areas), like at Hawthorne (Elementary School) where 97 percent of the students get free and reduced lunch. There’s just no money (for school supplies).”
To help with the need, the Elkhart Education Foundation is organizing a school supply drive just for Elkhart Community Schools. The foundation is asking the community to “stuff the bus” with school supplies at three Elkhart locations from now until August 3. Similar events in the area, like Back-2-School Elkhart, also provide school supplies for children, but the difference with this first-time event is that the supplies won’t be going directly to children. Instead, everything donated will be distributed between all Elkhart Community Schools, and teachers will give the supplies to their students as needed.
“It just shocked and saddened us that teachers were spending their own money,” Beth Montana, member of the steering committee for Elkhart Education Foundation and an employee of Boling Vision Center, one of the local groups partnering with the Elkhart Education Foundation said.
Montana said she hopes the stuff the bus event will be “kind of a grassroots effort to make a difference.”
A second-year kindergarten teacher at Elkhart Community Schools who didn’t want her name used said she has supplied her students with glue, dry-erase markers, pencils, crayons, scissors and more.
She said that she was overwhelmed last year by the amount of supplies she had to purchase with her own money. There’s a gap, she added, between what the school is able to provide and what students actually need and don’t bring to school. That gap is usually filled by the teacher.
Boling Vision Center, YMCA, and Menards are all taking part in the drive. Collection boxes are located at these three businesses inside the entrance. Donations of personal hygiene items like toothpaste and deodorant will be accepted along with traditional school supplies.
“Any school supplies — paper, pens, folders — the things that are actually out in the sale bins now in the major stores (are what’s needed),” Montana said.
For more information on the school supply drive, visit the Elkhart Education Foundation’s website at www.elkharteducationfoundation.org or look for the group’s Facebook page.