Hoping to lend a helping hand

For those who know a teacher, it might not be shocking news.

But for one man, news that teachers spend money from their own pockets to buy school supplies for their classrooms was so shocking he decided to do something about it.

The man perhaps more widely known for restoring an aging monument to World War II veterans said he was stunned to learn teachers spend as much as $1,000 of their own money in the classroom each year.

“I was shocked when I heard that and I wondered who else doesn’t know that?” John Freed said. “That was a real eye-opener.”

That realization prompted Freed to act. “I’ll be the first person to admit that I don’t know what I’m doing,” Freed said. So like he would on any other subject he becomes fascinated with – he started doing research.

Since last year he has been getting to know the school system as a part of an effort to help.

He said he met with Superintendent Mark Bessen to find out for sure if such a program can move forward and after a consult with the district’s lawyer – he found out it can.

The next question, Freed said he asked himself was ‘What don’t they have to do their jobs?’

To find out he sat down with several teachers to find out what was going on “down in the trenches.”

From those interviews he came up with a ‘wish list’ from teachers of items commonly paid for out of pocket which are essential for their classrooms.

Three things came out of the informal survey that fascinated Freed: firstly how much money teachers reported spending, second how high the maximum amount was and lastly, that spouses often don’t know just how much money goes back into the classroom each year.

To those who say as taxpayers they already pay too much, Freed said he “fully agrees” but feels this program is necessary given the times and how vitally important education is to the future.

“So do I (agree) but the bottom line is the kids suffer when the supplies aren’t there,” Freed said. 

Freed said what he envisions is a sponsor, or someone, or many people, to take a classroom under their wing and help the teacher get what he or she needs to do their job. With this program Freed said he hopes to connect residents with teachers and classrooms so contributions of needed items can help support education by channeling donations of what people can afford to give, from a box of pencils or snacks or possibly local businesses ordering a little bit extra when they go for office supplies to larger items from groups.

Teachers said the expenses often occur just so they can do their jobs. A consequence of trimming school budgets means the funds for various necessities have to come from somewhere.

“It used to be just order what you want,” fifth grade teacher Heather Loomis said. Although the money is no longer in the budget, the supplies remain necessary, teachers said.

“We do what we need to do to make it work,” Loomis said.

Loomis, and music teacher Brent Tuttle, said the times and reduced classroom stocking budgets dictate taking some of their own money to make it work in the classroom.

“You want to do the best job you can as a teacher and so you just do what you need to to be successful,” Tuttle said.

Whether it’s a folder, a pen or pencil, lined paper, construction paper or poster board, students show up to class without things even when lists go home to parents, teachers said.

The last thing teachers said they want to do is have finances, whether at the family level or the state level, dictate the grades a student receives. “What are you going to do? Give that kid a zero?” one teacher said.

“You don’t want kids to be behind just because they don’t have the basic stuff,” Loomis said. As a result, out of pocket money gets spent making sure every kid has a chance to do the work and be successful.

Loomis declined to say specifically how much she spends each year, but said the $300 dedicated in each year’s school budget does not bridge the gap between requirements and needs.

Although they declined to cite a specific figure, teachers polled said the $1,000 figure mentioned was not beyond the realm of possibilities for most teachers.

Single items can eat up large portions of that allowance, like a rug to provide a floor space for group activities consumes more than half of the annual class-stocking allotment leaving teachers with little for other equally important areas.

Another big item for many teachers in grade school is snacks. Loomis and others said it’s a long stretch between the start of school day and the lunch period and growing kids need something to bridge the gap. “We sometimes don’t eat until 12:30 and the kids get hungry long before that,” one teacher said.

It’s just about impossible to teach hungry kids, they said.

From granola to crackers, teachers said the snacks they buy help to keep the kids on track during that time leading up to the lunch break valuable time that could be wasted when students are hungry.

Freed said he hopes to see the program not just helping teachers cover classroom costs, but helping to fill in the gaps in programs that might have suffered cuts, such as a subject near and dear to his own heart – music. “I want to keep this as simple as simple can be,” he said.

From bookcases to gently used instruments of any kind, Freed said he wants to get those needed items from someone’s basement into a classroom. Anyone interested in helping out a classroom or classrooms in Granville can contract John Freed at 642-2812 or jfreed@hlalabsoftware.com.

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