The John Muir PTA decided to buy school supplies for all of the Seattle elementary school’s 400 students, which not only spared parents’ time and expense but greatly reduced the overall cost.
Last year, members of the PTA at Seattle’s John Muir Elementary asked the school’s families what they’d like from their PTA, and what would help their children succeed.
One of the top responses: school supplies.
About two-thirds of the 400 students at the Mount Baker school qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches. A significant portion come from immigrant or refugee families. Purchasing school supplies requires money and time most of the families don’t have.
So the PTA decided to pay for school supplies this year for every student.
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“We heard a lot of ‘school supplies are a lot of money, why do we have to pay for it?’ It’s a question that’s being asked all over the country,” said Julia Janek, the PTA’s vice president.
Across Washington state, schools are dropping their supply lists or trimming them down amid increasing costs of supplies — and an increasing number of families in need. They include all the schools in the Arlington School District in Snohomish County and Evergreen in Vancouver, Wash. Districts like Northshore and Mukilteo in King County are asking for fewer supplies.
In Seattle, the supply lists differ at each school, and even classroom to classroom. While most districts and schools hold supply drives for students who need them, few schools buy all supplies for all students.
At John Muir, buying even just the basic supplies was costing parents as much as $75 per child, or about $30,000 for the school as a whole.
Nationally, the average is nearly $200 per elementary student.
By buying in bulk on Amazon and using a parent’s Office Depot discount, the PTA was able to cut that spending to only $6,000 — $15 per student. The only items they’re asking families to provide are backpacks and pencil cases.
“It makes no sense for our families to have to go spend that money,” President Amy Zern said. “There’s a lot involved, and a lot of wasted money and time and gas.”
The PTA also asked the John Muir teachers what they needed for their classrooms for the upcoming school year and then ordered all those supplies, too. The money comes from the $40,000 that the PTA has raised through parent donations and events like walkathons and art shows.
When the supplies arrive at Muir next week, each teacher will take what he or she needs and distribute the supplies to students. There will also be a school supply closet, where teachers can go to restock throughout the year.
“It’s similar to what some of us remember in our childhoods, in that our schools used to be funded and could provide these things, the paper, pencils, highlighters, tissues, the very, very basics that are required,” Janek said.
School supplies had previously been brought up at the school’s race and social justice committee, which was created three years ago and started working with the PTA. Supplies was one of the examples of inequity at the school. Another was the book fair, where some students could afford to buy new books and some couldn’t. In response, the PTA gave $10 to each student last year to spend on books.
“We’re trying to create an environment where everyone starts at the same point when they walk through the school door,” Zern said.