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Kelly Lecker: Teacher Support Network helps buy important school supplies

This post was originally published on Madison.com on September 8, 2023.

The requests aren’t extravagant.

Child scissors. Painter’s tape. Pocket folders. Cheez-It crackers. Headphones.

But all these things are essential parts of a successful classroom, and buying them can strain a teacher’s budget. That’s where the Teacher Support Network comes in. Last school year, $123,235 worth of school supplies were purchased through the network’s online store, and more than half of that was spent on basic school supplies including crayons, notebooks, and erasers. The second most purchased item, after basic supplies, last year was snacks, including 12,848 packs of Cheez-Its and 2,392 bottles of water. That was followed by personal hygiene items and recess equipment. But coats and culturally relevant books were bought, too. The online store is open all year for teachers.

Lucy Sieber is the new principal at Hawthorne Elementary School. Late last month, she told the teachers at that school that they’d all be able to tap into the network to buy school supplies and was met with what she said was “rousing” applause. In addition to scissors and tape, teachers asked for bean bags for the literacy center, headphones so students could focus on their work, bins, graph paper, and one luxury item: good tissues.“It’s pretty basic stuff, but they’re things that make all the difference,” Sieber said.

Without the Teacher Support Network, the supplies would be purchased with the teachers’ own money or with money from the school budget, which is meant to be used for bigger buys. Or they wouldn’t be purchased at all. The network asks for money instead of the supplies themselves to give teachers the ability to buy the right things for their classrooms.

Sieber and other teachers say that one of the great things about the network is that students can start the school year on an even playing field. Not all parents can afford to send their children to school with a full set of supplies, and this fills in that gap. It also shows teachers that the community supports them, they said.

Britt Falbo is a cross-categorical teacher at the Metro Shelter School. The students in that school live at the shelter, and they often come there with few personal belongings. Money from the Teacher Support Network can help teachers stock up on supplies for those children. “Having those supplies on Day One is critical. They don’t come here with a backpack full of supplies,” Falbo said. “This provides as much stability and continuity as we can to be able to give them everything they need.”

The students at the Shelter School also have a harder time accessing recreational opportunities than other students. So money was used to buy a pickleball set, basketballs, volleyballs, and other recreational equipment. Because, as Falbo said, students living at the shelter deserve the same recreational opportunities as everyone else. Falbo said many of these students, who might only be at the Shelter School for a week, are navigating stressful situations that even adults can’t fathom. “If we can take any amount of worry off of them, that’s awesome,” she said. “The Teacher Support Network supports us, and we in turn can support our students.”

The Wisconsin State Journal is once again partnering with the Madison Public Schools Foundation to promote the Teacher Support Network. Donations can be made at schoolsmakemadison.org/donate.

Kelly Lecker Lecker is the executive editor of the Wisconsin State Journal: [email protected].

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