As school supply spending soars, community programs help students be prepared
Glittery pencil pouches, rows of rainbow folders and pens galore fill grocery stores across the county right now, signaling that it’s almost time to go back to school again.
This year families are expected spend a record amount to satisfy school supply list requirements. To help alleviate some of the costs, Grand County schools partner with the Mountain Family Center to provide students everything they need to be successful.
“The school will do whatever we can to help make sure the students are successful,” explained Jack Daly, principal at West Grand K-8. “We don’t want anybody to miss out on an opportunity because their situation is not ideal at the time.”
According to the National Retail Federation, families with school-age children will spend an average of roughly $697 on school supplies this year, including clothes, shoes and electronics, which is roughly $150 more than what families spent 10 years ago.
Many school districts are conscious of the rising costs of education when they compile the supply lists and try to ask for only what’s necessary, said officials at both the East and West Grand school districts.
“We’re a size where our teachers are very aware of what their student population is like, they know them very well and they take that stuff into account to make sure we’re not over-asking,” Daly said.
On top of that, both districts partner with Mountain Family Center for its backpack program, which provides backpacks full of the specific supplies on the participating schools’ lists for students at no cost.
The districts estimate how many backpacks will be needed based on how many have been used in years past and how many students are enrolled in the free and reduced-price meal program. However, the backpacks are free to any student, no questions asked.
“School supplies are an added expense at the beginning of every school year; it can be hard for families to fit that into their budget,” said Katie Stuvel, marketing and events coordinator for Mountain Family Center. “We just don’t want people to have to choose between putting food on the table or being able to provide school supplies.”
Each year, the nonprofit typically spends around $7,000 to put together an average of 350 backpacks for the county, which can be picked up at the schools’ front offices. Any extra backpacks are made available to students throughout the year.
Since the program has been initiated in West Grand, Daly has seen a similar response. He noted that the simple act of carrying a backpack can help children feel more comfortable and ready for success in school.
Plus, the program indirectly helps teachers save money because they don’t have to supplement as many student supplies. On average, teachers spend $480 per year on supplies, almost double the $250 tax deduction that’s available to teachers, according to the National Center of Education Statistics.
“People who teach, teach because they care about kids and when they see a student that’s lacking, they’ll fill that need themselves,” Daly said. “By having these programs, it helps my teachers not have to go into their own pocketbook and focus on what they need for the classroom.”
East Grand Superintendent Frank Reeves said every year he has parents asking when the backpacks will be available and has seen the program become commonplace in the schools, so students who participate don’t feel any stigma around needing help.
“We make sure that no kid is punished or feels ashamed because they didn’t have something,” he said. “It’s really normalized the whole idea of helping each other and not making someone feel lesser because they need help.”
Beyond the supplies, the school districts partner with Mountain Family Center to provide free food totes for students to take home over the long weekends. Like the backpacks, any student can access the food totes.
For students that do qualify for the free and reduced-price meal program, both East and West Grand also waive student fees, such as those for extracurriculars.
Bottom line, Reeves said, is “if families can’t bring it in, then they can’t and we understand that.”
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