By COLLEEN D. CURRAN —Teachers at Hyattsville Middle School (HMS) started their spring classes with school supply donations made possible by HMS administration, the Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) and the local community.
Buying classroom supplies is a common and even chronic struggle for teachers throughout the U.S., as demonstrated by a May 2018 U.S. Department of Education survey. The survey shows that 94 percent of public school teachers purchased school supplies without repayment during the 2014 school year.
After HMS teachers voiced their concerns about their out-of-pocket expenses for school supplies, HMS Principal Thornton Boone reached out to PTSO President Justine Christianson. “She spearheaded everything, and it has been a big success,” said Boone.
“We all know that teachers spend a lot of money out of pocket to buy supplies for their classrooms, so it was a way to sort of help out the teachers,” said Christianson, adding that she hopes this effort brings awareness to HMS and continues to build a strong bond between the school and the Hyattsville community.
After Boone gathered a teacher supply wish list, Christianson used the PTSO Facebook page, Amazon’s wish list feature and the H.O.P.E (Hyattsville Organization for a Positive Environment) email group to share the list with the community.
“I am so grateful. I started crying when I got my first thing,” said Jennifer Halligan, a reading and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher. Halligan said that when she received Christianson’s email about the donations, “I literally started crying.”
Halligan requested young adult books in Spanish, as the majority of her students are from Central America. She also asked for Amharic dictionaries for HMS’s growing population of Ethiopian-born students.
“Imagine reading in another language all day and having to think in another language,” Halligan said. “I try to buy books that reflect my students’ situations, and when I hear students say, ‘This is the first book where I’ve seen someone who looks like me in the book,’ it makes it worth it.”
Science co-teacher Lori Colding said, “I just put in things, not really thinking I was going to get [them], you know, just a wish list, and pretty much everything we’ve asked for we now have.”
Colding said she requested colored paper, copy paper and a new, sturdy pencil sharpener, and emphasized that students often need simple supplies the most.
“There was stuff coming in every other day after we submitted the list,” she said with surprise.
Colding teaches approximately 90 students every day, and has 18 years of teaching experience. When asked how often she pays out of pocket for school supplies, she said, “All the time. Like every week, I’m buying things, especially in the area of science, because sometimes you may not have the materials you need on hand. But even simple things like pencils and paper.”
Colding’s classroom also received new test tubes and beakers for science experiments. Other teachers requested graph notebook paper and calculators for math classes, pens, paper and art supplies, and larger items like whiteboards. One teacher even requested a mop for cleaning the dance studio.
Both Boone and Christianson said they had seen positive reactions to the wish list project.
“When teachers see results, they see people actually care. Bringing those packages kind of pumps them up, and they get excited about sharing it with the kids, which gets [the kids] pumped up,” said Boone. “So I’ve noticed the school culture, the climate is more excited. The kids feel welcome here, but most importantly, my teachers are being taken care of. We have some dynamite teachers this year.”
Christianson estimated that about 20 people have purchased items off the wish list so far, and, because she did not recognize all of the donors’ names, she thought that some of them might be community members who do not have children in the school system.
“I think a lot of people look for ways that they can help, and they may not know what they can do,” she said. She described the list as an easy way for people to contribute and support their neighboring public schools.
Christianson said she will consider spearheading the wish list project or something similar again next year to help support HMS teachers.
“It is fulfilling to know that there are people out there who are willing to put that money out to make sure that kids can have great educational experiences,” said Halligan. “It’s heartwarming to know that people still care about education, even if they’re not connected to it.”