Thursday, September 4, 2008

School-time and the Budgeting Blues

I was in Staples last week to get a few supplies that only they carry locally and I was amazed and perplexed by the back to school displays, which have been up for weeks already. I had a few minutes so I wandered up and down the aisles. I also observed a whole bunch of mothers and their kids as they shopped for school.

Most of the moms I saw were carrying school supply lists that various of the schools had given out to the store. SI has a huge number of Catholic schools and they are very organized when it comes to supply lists. Without exception these shopping families were pushing at least two wagons, and they were rapidly being filled to overflowing.

Backpacks and wheeled packs were flying off the shelves. And I wondered to myself, looking at the kids and their obvious ages, why at least one of them couldn't use last year's backpack this year. Into the wagons went notebooks of every size and hue. There were also 3-ring binders with a variety of dividers and packs of paper. Pens in a huge variety of colors, pencils and extra leads and erasers, markers, crayons, glue, tape, whiteout, post it notes, index cards, rulers, compasses, calendars, boxes to hold school supplies in the desk, scissors, small staplers, staple removers and extra staples, stickers of every variety, calculators, paper clips, paperback dictionaries and thesauri, folders and plastic accordion files for storage. There were also reams of printing paper and ink cartridges. And it wasn't just a question of taking one off the shelf: which color, and which popular cartoon character or personality or sports figure or team was going to be on those items? Some of the schools, both public and private, also require that each child bring in 1-2 boxes of tissues, a roll of paper towels, some rolls of toilet paper and a small bottle of spray cleaner as well.

There was more, much more that was being sold for "back to school." And I gave mega thanks that my kids are way beyond that stage. If this is what shopping for school is like now, then family budgets are not being made out correctly. Nowhere in any of the online discussions about school tuition and costs and about budgeting have I seen an entry for school supplies. The woman checking out in front of me had three kids with her, and her total on the register was $287. That was a shocking enough figure and then she added, saying to the checkout clerk, "I wish you would have had everything on the list."

Consumerism starts younger and younger. Yes, a child needs supplies for school, but with what shiur? Was absolutely nothing from the year before usable any longer? My kids inevitably ended the school year with some notebooks which had only a few pages written on. Those pages were ripped out and the notebook was ready to make its appearance again the next year. Will everything from this year's shopping list be put to use? Shouldn't a classroom have a stapler in it for teacher and student use?

This may be about school supplies but it quickly morphs from there. The type of buying I saw being done teaches a lesson before the kids ever get into the classroom: more is more. I, at least, don't think this is a worthy lesson to be teaching.


Anonymous said...

This year I volunteered to buy the school supplies for my grandchildren as a gift to help out my kids. Before we went shopping I thought to myself "just how much could this all cost anyway?" We started out in the cheap stores but they didn't have everything so we worked our way up to Office Max. I shopped smart but even so the total for 7 kids and the supplies for them ran over $600. And that was with reusing some things left over from last year.

I also would have thought that some of the backpacks from last year could be reused but you really had to have seen the condition of these things at the end of last school year. I don't think the manufacturers make them so that they will last for more then 9 or 10 months tops.

Knitter of shiny things said...

The schools are requiring the students to bring in their own paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, and spray cleaner? I can understand the tissues, since that's a good thing for one to have on them, but the rest is ridiculous.

In terms of staplers- even if there might be a stapler on the teacher's desk, students often are required to have their papers stapled before coming into class. I forget if failure to do so actually resulted in points lost or something, but I remember being told that things needed to be stapled. That being said, one household stapler would work. Though it's nice to have one in your backpack when you forget to staple things at home.

And I never had to have a dictionary or thesaurus for class. (You'd think the classroom would have one, right?)

Anonymous said...

Of course, if there was a severe reduction in spending, by way of effective economising, this could be seen as a 'school retail slowdown' - with recession only just around the corner!!! Funny how things can be interpreted in a consumerist society...
Happy blogoversary


A Living Nadneyda said...

We have a rule in our family: Kids going into new frameworks get new backpacks, and first graders get new pencil bags, but you can have a new one the next year if it wasn't lost or destroyed through negligence.

So. this year our first grader and our fourth grader each got a wheelie backpack "on the house," but the fourth grader, who had lost her pencil bag through careless behavior was given the option of forgoing a new one or spending her own money. She chose the latter, but I noticed that she chose a much less expensive type than what she would have asked me to buy her. Can't imagine why...

As for toilet paper, etc, I only wish our kids' frameworks would be careful about keeping soap in the bathroom dispensers on a regular basis, and if so I would gladly supply some of it.

Anonymous said...

Who goes to Staples now, when the school supply sales are over?

I went to Staples and Target repeatedly over the summer to stock up on supplies the kids will need -- when they were on sale. Once I walked out with bags full of looseleaf paper, sharpeners, pencils, glue, and notebooks -- and paid under $3.

Lands' End's backpacks in "last year's" colors were $15 instead of almost $60 in their overstock section online. You can bet that my kids will reuse them!

A friend whose kids were home for the summer said, "So, we didn't shop the sales. We probably spent an extra $100 on supplies, but at least I didn't have camp tuition so I'm ahead in the long run." Sigh. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago the PTA of one of my kids' schools had a fundraiser. They sold ready put together packs of school supplies by grade. Maybe not as cheap as I could have gotten everything for if I would shopped for it all myself, but I didn't have to spend all summer shopping for school supplies, I didn't have to make 20 trips, everything in the pack was already approved by the school. And what was nice was that since everybody had the same type of everything there was none of the competition you sometimes see for the coolest backpack or the snazziest notebooks. Why didn't they do it again? A lot of kids complained that the things sold weren't "in" and their parents caved in and didn't buy from the school the next year.

concernedjewgirl said...

There is another point here.
How kids treat their things.

I'm not as 'mature' as some of the other bloggers around. Yet, I am out of school. I had the same backpack all through High school. I had another backpack all through college. I had pencil cases all through school and still have them. I have binders and other supplies all through school and again I still have them. I know that times are different but again I'm not that far out of school TIMES aren't THAT different for me. It’s a matter of what you instill in your children. If you treat your possessions with disrespect by tarring them, drawing on them and ripping them apart then why should you get something new for next year? I always respected my possessions and that has stayed with me. Here is another kicker, other than basics of pens, paper, basic calculator, I bought my own supplies. This entailed different color gel pens that are always overpriced, locker mirrors, and pencil cases that were not what my parents viewed as a necessity.

Anonymous said...

A lot of what gets bought for school is hardly ever used but gets broken or lost anyway. The first time I got home one of those school lists I called the teacher and asked her how often each item would be used. Some would only be used maybe few times a year. I told the teacher I wasn't paying that money for something that would probably be lost before she got around to using it. And some of those things on the list were for the kids to have at home for homework. I didn't need three staplers and three sets of markers for my three kids at home--they could all share one set.

mlevin said...

Well, there is only one reason why school supplies are so extensive and that is selfish teachers. Every year I looked at my kids’ requirement list and wondered who in the right mind gave these teachers a right to teach. My children knew the drill and knew exactly what I will say, but no one listened to me. Other mothers thought I was crazy to complain about it. In addition to extra expense, I was complaining about extra weight that my child had to carry to school. It is just not healthy.

ProfK about specific question:

Bookbags – In the beginning I found myself buying new schoolbags every few months, because those that have plastic in it, were not made to withstand cold weather. Once exposed to a frigidity of NY winter they freeze and begin to fall apart. Another problem is dirt. This is children we are talking about and very quickly their bags turn into dirty rags. Solution: buy sturdy washable material bags, yes, they are costly, but in the long run they will prove their worth. My youngest is using her bag for the 9th year straight.

Many schools (particularly PS) are short on cleaning supplies. So, teachers request these from children. Yes, it’s a fair request, but it’s not fair when a teacher requests a specific brand and on short notice to boot. These things cost money, but when on sale or at a different store, they could be as much as half off. Do you really need 35 rolls of paper towels on the second day of school?

Staples and such should be reusable from previous years. But these dumb teachers want only specific brand or unusual size, so we parents end up with 5 staplers when one could do a job.

Notebooks are mine pet peeve. These kids do not need 8 notebooks to take to school on daily basis. Teachers please use your brain so children could shlep only one of notebook at the time. And what is wrong with using last year’s notebook? These teachers insist on brand new ones, because they want nothing crossed over (whited out) on the cover.

Dictionaries are another stupidity. Teachers insist on certain edition and insist that they are no older than a few years. Why? Because language evolves and 5 year old dictionary is not upto date. Pleeeease. No one uses dictionaries anymore. Kids go to computer and it spits out the latest definitions.

mlevin said...

ella - I tried doing what you did, but these stupid teachers insist that their student get their own crayons and carry their own box to school.

Anonymous said...

One year the school I was teaching for allowed me to handle school supplies a bit differently. I asked each parent if they would please NOT purchase any supplies but notebook paper and a book bag and would they please send in 5 dollars to cover the supplies, which I would purchase and give out to the kids. Okay, life was cheaper back then, but I bought a 3-ring binder for each child with a clear plastic pocket front. We spent a bit of time having each child choose from among the bits and pieces of decorating material I had brought in and placing those bits artistically on a sheet of paper, they wrote their names on that sheet and put it into the clear pocket. Glue? I bought 4 bottles for general classroom use. The same for a stapler and staples, for tape, for stencils. I bought pencils and pens and filled two cans with them. Strangely enough we didn't use up either can that year, while the mother who buys a 12-pack of pencils for just one child is out doing it again in only a few months. I bought a heavy duty pencil sharpener for the classroom. I bought markers galore. I bought plain pocket folders and let the kids decorate them and personalize them. I bought everything I needed and still had a few dollars left over to use during the rest of the year.

For a lot less money then any parent would spend individually I had my whole class outfitted with supplies. They weren't being shlepped back and forth every day and I knew they would always be available when we needed them in class.

This worked for me all the years I taught and might work for some other teacher as well. True, I don't think the $5 will cover things any more even buying wholesale so maybe charge $10-15 and you should manage it.

Leah Goodman said...

I remember when I was in college, I had a junky backpack that fell apart, b/c we were used to not buying name brands in order to save money. A guy I knew had bought one with a monogram from Eddie Bauer when he was in 6th grade, and it had been replaced (for free) 2-3 times in the intervening years.

If you can get Land's End overstocks, you get the best of both worlds as they will replace anything that wears out pretty much forever.

A classroom needs one dictionary and thesaurus, a dictionary and thesaurus for every student is insane - likewise for a stapler.

If there's a problem with supplies, have every kid donate $1 to the stapler/dictionary/thesaurus/pencil sharpener fund.

And for heaven's sake, if it's good enough for MLA, it should be good enough for teachers. A "term paper" should be handed in with a staple or paper-clip in the upper-left corner of the paper, with a paper cover showing the name of the student, the name of the class, the date, and the name of the assignment. None of these stupid plastic folders!

I was a bit taken aback to find out that my niece's school supply included a disk-on-key, but her step-dad fortunately had just been at a conference and gotten a few for free as giveaways. Then again, it's a boarding school, and the kids are going to be using lab computers most of the time, so they really do need it, just the way we used to use 3.5 inch floppies in high school.

I do think that for elementary school students, it's normal to have a small box of crayons (8 or 16) of their own to take to school. My sister managed to pick up packs of 16 for like 25c each at Target last summer.

glue sticks are way better than the liquid stuff which ends up all over your kids' clothes, pencil case, bag, etc.

Parents should also be smart. Send your kid to school with only 2 pencils at a time. Keep the rest of the pack at home for when they inevitably get lost or stolen. Likewise with pens.

If your child is a pen-chewer, find a brand that's not chewable.

Compasses and protractors aren't used much. You can probably have 1-2 for the household.

Reinforcements almost never get used. I've never used them, and I've only on occasion seen people use them. If you must buy, then buy one pack and give a sheet to each kid.

Most importantly, parents have to get the message through to their kids that how fancy something is has nothing to do with how useful it is, and the kid with the fanciest things isn't actually any happier...It's a very hard message to get through in today's society, but its a very important message.

Would you rather have IKEA furniture and a saving's account or Ethan Allen furniture and debt?

Anonymous said...

Well if we are all allowed to complain a little on this subject I have a few complaints too, from the teacher's point of view.

Parents who don't look at the list I send home and buy what they want. I say a 8-16 pack of crayons and they send in a 48-64 pack. I don't ask for markers and a full pack is sent in anyway. I don't ask for a stapler or tape and they send it anyway. I ask for a small glue stick and they send in the large size or a bottle of glue. I ask for two notebooks of a specific size and line width and I get everything but what I asked for. I ask for two pens and two pencils and full boxes come in. I ask for a paperback dictionary and I get the excuse I saw above about how no one uses them anymore and the kids can look up words on their computers. That's fine at home but we don't have 22 computers in our classroom and when I teach vocabulary every day the kids need their dictionary right there on the desk in front of them.

And here is my really big peeve. I ask that every single item have a label with the child's name on it, and I never get this. Yes, I mean pens and pencils too. By the end of the first week I have full containers of all the items that were left out all over the room that have no identification on them and no way of giving them back to the right child. Kids have to start borrowing from my containers because they have "lost" their own things. I end every school year with cartons full of lost items that I recycle for the next year. They wouldn't get lost if the parents took a minute to label everything! If you are buying a new stapler every year, that is your fault, not mine. First, I don't want one and second, you didn't label so the fault is yours. I regularly make the kids take home those staplers and they regularly come back every day. Why aren't the parents reading my notes home about these things and why aren't they checking the backpacks every day?

If the backpacks are over full then your child is bringing in too much. You need to buy extras now? Keep them at home. I don't have room in my classroom to be your storage locker.

Leah Goodman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leah Goodman said...

oops, misread something... I do want to know, however, how Tirtzah proposes that we should label pens and pencils?

I tried putting sticker-labels on pencils one year, and they hurt my fingers.

ProfK said...

I don't know how Tirtzah labels the pens but I used small round labels with my kids first, middle and last initials on them. The labels go easily around round objects.

And re Tirtzah's comment about the dictionaries, When I taught the elementary grades there was not a day ever that my students did not need to have and use those dictionaries. Not only for focused vocabulary study and acquisition but for every subject we studied. When the social studies reader mentioned the word "demographics" out came the dictionaries. When the science book mentioned chlorophyll, out came the dictionaries. It's useless to tell the students to go home and look up words on their computers when they need to know what the word means in the class, at a specific moment. And they retain knowledge of words they look up better than if I tell them the meaning.

Leah Goodman said...

ProfK: When I was in school, all those books had glossaries.
Do they not have them anymore?

ProfK said...

Yes, the books have glossaries, but only for the specific terms they are intending to teach. They don't necessarily include words that are used to describe or discuss those terms. They for sure do not include words they assume that the reader has already come across/studied about or just should know. When a 7th grade social studies book talks about "blatant mismanagement of resources" none of these three words is in the glossary. And the "typical" seventh grader doesn't know what blatant means, probably has a working knowledge of "mismanagement," and may have a limited idea of what a resource is. They may know of or about "natural resources" but may not know that the word can apply in other areas as well, or how it should specifically be used in writing.

In one literature story, set in the Russian Steppes, the physical setting was important to what happened in the story. So yes, the dictionary was invaluable in telling the students about the Steppes. In another story that was being read aloud the sentence said "but wait, I digress." I stopped the reading and asked what "digress" meant. Out came the dictionaries, and while we were at it we also learned about "Progress" and "regress" as the relatives of "digress." In another case a story said that something was set "into a recess in the wall." For that grade, the only definition of "recess" that they knew was the one where they got a break for 10 minutes. Out came the dictionaries.

Far too many people are "vocabulary poor." No one gets out of one of my classes without my having made an attempt to remedy this sad situation, and a dictionary is a "front line" tool in this war.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that everyone involved in school supplies needs to do some changing--administrators, teachers, parents and students. Administrators of yeshivas need to give their teaching staff the kind of supply allowance that public schools do, so that teachers can buy the supplies that can be used by a whole class or for them, like staplers and a regular pencil sharpener. Teachers need to pare down the lists that parents need to buy by asking for only what is really necessary. Parents need to ask questions if they don't understand the necessity of why certain items are asked for, they need to label the items that are sent as said above, they need to teach their kids how to take care of their belongings and they have to stop giving in for some of the nonesense that the kids say they need to have because everyone else has one. And kids need to learn that if they don't take care of their things and treat them with care they won't get replacements.

Anonymous said...

I think there should be a difference between learning school supplies and art project supplies. I don't have a problem in spending on required notebooks and pens and things but a lot of the items on the lists my kids got are for arts and crafts projects that will be done. Those supplies I think the school should supply, especially in the preschool. I mean, what else are they really doing in kindergarden? Or if they feel these supplies are extra then just ask me for $10 and let the school do all the buying for the class. There would be a lot less waste and duplication that way.