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Published August 20, 2013, 09:17 PM

Shopping lists for parents detail brands and new classroom needs

Autumn Graber of Grand Forks had just tossed some markers in her cart at Target when her son, Aiden, 5, asked if they were finished yet. “No, we just got here,” she laughed. Graber, like several parents at the store on Monday, toted small children as they participated in the annual hunt for school supplies.

By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald

Autumn Graber of Grand Forks had just tossed some markers in her cart at Target when her son, Aiden, 5, asked if they were finished yet.

“No, we just got here,” she laughed.

Graber, like several parents at the store on Monday, toted small children as they participated in the annual hunt for school supplies. Standard items such as markers and crayons were included, but not just any kind — the list requires Elmer’s glue, No. 2 pencils, Sharpie markers.

Such demands cause some parents to wonder why schools don’t accept non-brand names. Ben Franklin Principal Beth Randklev said quality is important and helps students stay focused.

“A kid can go through a pencil a day with cheap pencils because they won’t sharpen, and that takes away from learning,” she said.

New way to cut costs

At Ben Franklin, all of the supplies are collected and used for the whole class. That way, teachers don’t waste a long time handing out individual supplies to each student, said Randklev.

But some parents wonder why schools depend on parents to buy the supplies, rather than buying them in bulk and possibly saving money in the process.

State law doesn’t allow districts to charge fees for general education, but schools can request parents provide for supplies, according to Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson.

“This has been a long-term practice for many years,” he said. “The Grand Forks Public School district, like most, if not all, in our region, state and country, requests parents provide school supplies.”

But as districts try to save costs, schools are forced to get more creative, said Randklev. Just this year, Ben Franklin’s Parent Teacher Organization participated in a national fundraising program to buy school supplies. The PTO covered about $1,000 worth of Kleenex, pencils and plastic baggies, all in the name of reducing costs to parents, said Randklev.

“We’re going to try it and see how it works,” she said. “This is your money coming back to you.”

Needy families can apply to the Salvation Army, which annually hands out backpacks and supplies to students. This year, 507 children were given supplies, said Maj. Linda Fjellman, an officer with the Salvation Army in Grand Forks.

As a parent and a PTO board member, Lisa Berglund said she understands that trying to find school supplies isn’t always fast or cheap, but parents don’t always need to provide new items. Scissors, rulers and other items can be carried over to the next year and she doesn’t throw out good products, she said.

“A decent quality backpack can be one of the more expensive items, but you can get two or three years out of it,” she said.

School supply lists also reflect changing teaching needs. Dry-erase markers have been added because students use marker boards, which saves on paper use and time, and earphones are now required for computer use, said Randklev.

“As we get new teaching techniques, things change,” she said.

Shorter hunt

Principals and teachers run through the supply list each year before it’s released in May to make sure each item is necessary, Randklev said.

“We really tried to scrutinize the list to eliminate the scavenger hunt,” she said.

Parents at the Grand Forks Target on Monday appeared to be successful in tracking down what they needed. It took a reporter less than an hour to find almost every item on the fourth-grade list for Ben Franklin Elementary, though no children were in tow.

Graber and her family just moved to Grand Forks from Fargo, and amid all of the moving hassle, she still had school shopping to tackle. By early afternoon, several supplies were still available, but the folders and spiral notebooks were nearly sold out.

Graber recalled how excited she used to get over new school supplies when she was a child.

“I want to make this time just as special for him,” she said.

But as she managed the needs her two young boys, one of whom just learned how to whistle, Graber wasn’t paying much attention to the prices. Asked if she was more focused on just getting out of the store, she laughed.

“You couldn’t have said it any better,” she said.

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