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Thursday, September 04, 2008

School Supplies

Long ago I printed an advertisement from Marvin Schick that ran in the Jewish Press calling upon schools to show sensitivity to parents and stop sending home constant requests for money, often through their children. On top of tuition, there is no question these requests are hurtful.

ProfK has a good post up about the cost of school supplies. Schools today are sending home lists of supplies that are just massive. ProfK witnessed shoppers from the Catholic School at the Staples spending atrocious amounts of money. Grandparent Ruchi, at ProfK, volunteered a gift of school supplies for 7 grandchildren and was out $600. I witnessed a similar sight to ProfK a number of years ago at the Target where Yeshiva students and their parents were trying to meet the requirements of the list like it was a dress code. I said to myself at the time, what ever happened to a set of dividers, some notebook paper, a binder, and a few extras? We even had classroom calculator sets through middle school.

My mother used to say that the teachers in my middle-class public school were not sensitive to the parents with less with their constant demand for this supply or that supply. We didn't have a problem with a $5 outlay here and there. My mother would say these demands would never fly in the neighborhood she grew up in where everyone struggled and everyone was aware of this. Often the costlier demands were for supplies for projects that didn't have a ton of educational value, but looked good on a wall.

I can only imagine what she would say regarding massive lists or today that are common in both public and private schools. I've seen these lists and they which pale in comparison to the few supplies we had to bring. And, ultimately, as commentors at ProfK's blog point out, many of these supplies go unused and get lost.

ProfK is right that kids are getting all the wrong messages regarding consumerism (the stores play right into the increased demands as a market for more and more choice is created) and "more is more." This week's parsha includes a mitzvah not to waste and destroy. Perhaps a less demanding supply list that let's parents make due would be more appropriate?


SuperRaizy said...

Oh, definitely. Most school supply lists are too long and overly specific. It is not unusual for parents to have to go to a few different stores to locate all the items.
I've found that if you shop at discount stores rather than at Staples or office supply stores, you can save a lot of money. I spent $99.12 on school supplies for three kids this week. At $33 per child, that's not too bad.

L said...

I am more bothered by what they waste from their lunch boxes. I don't know how parents with large families afford those packaged chips, yogurts that have enough sugar to be desert, juice boxes, and a variety of other pre-packaged junk food that the kids either waste most of or eat instead of their sandwich and apple. Why not send dry cereal, carrots, fruit, home made cookies, a refillable BPA free bottle of water or diluted juice, and home made popcorn? Also, cut down the amount. The kids throw away lots of food.

ProfK said...

Thanks for the link SL. And l's comment resonates with me. You cannot imagine how much food the kids throw out in school. Nor the trading that goes on. My kids were actually mad at me a few times when they were younger because the food I sent to school didn't have "trade appeal" with their classmates. I sent fruit and veggies and a few homemade cookies or graham crackers instead of all the packaged nosh.

Lion of Zion said...


"often through their children"

that would be a really a good suggestion for the school not to do this, although it would cost $ for postage (how else could parents be notified?)


re. the food, thank god i don't have to worry about this. my son's school has a mandatory lunch program (extra cost of course), so instead of me sending wholesome foods my son can eat salami on white bread with peaches in syrup for dessert

שבת שלום

Esther said...

Thanks for posting on this topic. My son is only in first grade, and the list of supplies was pretty extensive. Plus, they needed 2 full sets, one for general studies and one for Judaic studies. The school "helps" by offering to sell kits with all the needed supplies for $25 each (so $50 total), but we were able to spend less than this by going to Target.

But what really bothered me is that on top of this, there is a required $50 "supply fee" to the school.

Also, a lot of the supplies are shared. So my son won't neccesarily be using the exact supplies I bought him, but rather we are being asked to stock the shelves of the classroom.

Ariella said...

It always annoys me that the teachers specify composition notebooks -- and my daughter was told to bring in 5 (in different colors) just for her English teacher [in second grade!] -- which are always more expensive than the spiral notebooks that go on sale for just 10 cents a piece before the school year at Office Max. The composition notebooks are usually over $1 a piece. Amazing Savings had some for 69 cents but sold out weeks before school began. The best price for them was at Rite Aid -- 3 for $1. But they were not out. When I asked for them after having ascertained over the phone that they were in stock, the salesman brought over only 6. So my second grader alone took most of them. And, you know, that none of my kids have ever come near to using up a whole composition notebook even when skipping backs -- as the teachers seem to specify. [I'm a mean mommy, as I make my kids recycle their hardly touched notebooks the next year. They usually don't even finish them up after 2 years of school use.] The same second grader, BTW, also has to bring in 3 binders in specific colors, looseleaf paper, glue sticks (you know, these didn't even exist when I was a kid) and countless other stuff.

When my son was in elementary school, the teachers there bought everything and billed us. It was not quite as economical as shopping around for the items, but at least it saved the tircha of shlepping. You do pay for convenience, so I accepted that. But I really was bothered by teachers that did both -- send out a long laundry list of supplies and send a bill for the "special" folders or whatever they bought for the class on top of that. Once I'm shopping for all the stuff, I can pick up folders or whatever, too. So I don't appreciate paying twice.

So why do teachers do this? I think that some people are really into uniformity and the form of superficial organization that results from everyone having a red binder for math, say, and a blue composition notebook for English. But, really, by that age, the kids should be able to read the labels they put on their own notebooks. They may also think that their subjects gain more chashivus [status] from all the that they say is required for it.

Perhaps schools should offer teachers an exercise in budgeting and force them to cooperate so that each student should have to spend no more than say $35 for all the teacher's supplies. After all, they are supposed to cooperate in limiting homework to a manageable amount for the students by not exceeding their share, so why not apply the same concept to the supply list?

SephardiLady said...

Financial requests should NOT go home with the students, nor should they go out without sufficient notice if they are appropriate at all.

Also, our school was kind enough to just send a schedule of who was required to bring what on what weeks along with the calendar and health forms. A month before school started I knew that we would be on the hook for grape juice and challah twice during the school year. I really appreciate knowing in advance. My friend told me that her husband had to go out and buy pringles the night before a project because each kid (they had three in the school) needed their own pringles can. She was far from pleased. These demands really irk parents, especially busy parents and parents on tight budgets.

Lion of Zion said...


i don't think we're at the point yet where everyone checks their email every night as the primary mode of communication.

i also know that i get emails that require following up and then i forget about them if it is not something that requires immediate attention. i personally need another piece of paper cluttering up my desk or fridge to remind me. and not everyone is as tech savy as we are.

but i'm still intrigued by this idea of not using kids to transmit financial obligations. is this the policy in your kids' school?

and for what purpose do kids need a pringles can? i hope it's not a requires snack. and if it's for a crafts project, there is something wrong with a project, it just sounds wierd to me to buy potato chips that you might not ordinarily eat jsut for the container.

Lion of Zion said...

wow, that really came out incoherently

tdr said...

These "night before" requests are the best, aren't they? "Oh Mommy, morah says I need to bring in grapes for fruit salad tomorrow."

The general idea that seems to be often missing is consideration of the parents.

FTR I found those black and white composition books on sale for 10 cents somewhere sometime and I bought a whole bunch of them.

I don't remember "school supplies" being such a major thing when I was a kid. It was a given that you had to have something to write with and on, but more than that? One of my kids even needed 2 sets of markers this year (not to mention, glue, scissors, crayons, etc). The schools are strapped and no longer provide this stuff like they did in the past.

As for the teacher asking the parents to shell out for supplies -- this is certainly to offset the money that the teachers have to shell out of their own pockets. My Mom was a dedicated Philadelphia public school teacher and she frequently spent money on supplies that the school didn't or wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

Pringles cans are for megillahs, of course. Nursery school megillahs.

When I get asked for a Pringles can I avoid sending it. Usually the teacher asks people to send as many as they can. I admit that I try to get a free ride on the back of someone who buys Pringles anyway.

Lion of Zion said...

"Pringles cans are for megillahs, of course. Nursery school megillahs."

how about paper towel inserts, or coffee cans, or milk containers, etc. why dafka pringles cans?

ProfK said...

Those last minute, night before requests used to drive me nuts. One night the kids came home and said they needed to bring in frozen orange juice cans the next day. I don't use frozen OJ and had no cans, nor did anyone on the block. My kids tearfully brought in notes to their teachers which read "I'm sorry but I have no orange juice cans. Please, I need more then one night's notice the next time so I can see if I can locate some empties." That afternoon I received a call from the menahel of the school who started out the conversation this way: "ProfK, we know that some parents are reluctant to bring up the subject of money with the school, but if you are having financial problems we could offer you a reduction in tuition." I was so shocked at the idea that the school called me to offer a tuition reduction that I couldn't speak for a few moments. I finally found enough voice to ask the menahel why he thought I needed the reduction. He mentioned that my daughters' moros both had mentioned that we had no orange juice and that I would have to scrounge around for empties the next time. I would imagine he got a picture in his mind similar to those people you sometimes see who pick through the garbage cans looking for empty cans and bottles to recycle for the money. It took about 10 minutes to persuade him that it wasn't that I couldn't afford orange juice but that I used fresh in cartons. The whole conversation could have been avoided if only the teacher had sent her request a week in advance.

Lion of Zion said...


oh stop it. the menahel called *you* about a tuition reduction? and it took *10* minutes to disuade him of the idea?

Selena said...

The pringles cans are to HOLD the megillah. It is the case, of course....

Over the entire summer, Staples, Office Depot and Office Max all had different supplies on sale each week for a penny each, or in some cases for free. Each week, I went and bought the max of these supplies (a little shleppy, I know) but I had plenty of supplies plus extra for next year (or 1/2 way through this year when the teacher needs 10 more glue sticks, or whatever)....

Rachel Ruminates said...

I have a question...I am out of the loop (not a mom yet!) pay for tuition and they ask for money for school supplies?

That seems to be a little ridiculous.

As it is, the idea that public schools can't afford to give school supplies beyond notebooks and pencils is upsetting, but...

Lion of Zion said...


"you pay for tuition and they ask for money for school supplies?"

and lunch, trips, school shirt, hanukah presents, end-of-year presents, transportation, lice checks, building fund, annual dinner, etc.

Rachel Ruminates said...

That is unbelievable.

I guess I am a little late in this discussion...but wow.

ProfK said...

Things were a lot different back then. This was a small, local bais yaakov and the menahel really did worry about his school "family" as he called us. And keep in mind that the tuition we are talking about was only $350 a year then.

Lion of Zion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lion of Zion said...


"The pringles cans are to HOLD the megillah. It is the case, of course."

you give me your kid's megila and i'll show you how it fits very nicely into a milk container. if i can do it, i get to keep the pringles


start saving



anonymous mom said...

Ok. Deep breath. I bought the supplies for my school-aged kids at Staples and Target and it wasn't such a big deal. The lists weren't that long and were emailed out plus sent by snail mail over the summer. Then, the teachers reminded us again in class with paper reminders for the younger ones. I didn't feel annoyed by the cost and if there is something that we don't use over the year, it will usually find a use in the years to come. The hard composition notebooks are better than the cheaper soft ones for two reasons: a. they are hard and therefore easier for the children to write on. Remember, these are younger children and even the most agile among them may struggle with neatness in written assignments. Merely balancing holding a pencil correctly and writing neatly in a book is tough for younger kids and a major challenge for the kids with various learning disabilities. b. the soft notebooks tend to fall apart, covers rip off, pages become ripped off partially or completely. Trust me, your child's teacher is usually not an idiot or a non-thinking, wasteful individual. Cut her some slack. And if she does require something that you find difficult to aquire or too expensive, then ask her in a respectful note if it is necessary or can be exchanged for something else. As for charging for supplies, I've never encountered that. In terms of my own supply requirements, I try to keep it simple, but I do teach older children. Trust me, having taught in different worlds and eras (20 years+) and different ages, I don't think that the requirements are so off the mark. What I find more troubling are the increasing costs of school trips, in-school "fun/educational" programs, and Siyums which--in my school--are sometimes ordered in from pizza stores which I find highly objectionable.

Honestly Frum said...

I had to send my kid to his nursery orientation with an additional $20 for "snacks", and I know this is just the begining of "small" requests we will be getting throughout the year. $10K a child is not enough to cover the costs of animal crackers and milk?

tdr said...

I was aghast this year when my kids' new school required $70 to pay for daily milk for the whole year. In their old schools, the milk was given for free.

Then it hit me the difference: Old schools in Baltimore County, new school in Baltimore City. Balto County provided milk for free even to the private schools. Balto City doesn't.

I realized it after a discussion I had regarding purchasing an "AlphaSmart" for my kid. I was told that the County provides one for any kid who needs it, regardless of school, while the City only provides for public school kids.

I wonder how much else goes on "behind the scenes" that parents aren't aware of that results in extra charges for this or that.