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September 1, 2008 8:04 AM   Subscribe

How can I stretch office/classroom supplies? Where can I order cheap office supplies? Any hacks to avoid buying the real stuff (e.g., instead of buying glue, mix flour and water together)?

My school gave me a classroom with no supplies. No paper, no pencils, no crayons, no books, no anything. Nada. My students come from impoverished homes and their parents can't afford school supplies, meaning I have to provide school supplies for 24 kids. Your suggestions, please.
posted by HotPatatta to Shopping (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
For clarification: You have no school/text books?
posted by Houstonian at 8:11 AM on September 1, 2008


We do have math books. That's it.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:15 AM on September 1, 2008


Hmm.. do you have a Paypal account? I'll chip in some money for supplies. We could have a MeFi sponsored classroom.
posted by Ugh at 8:16 AM on September 1, 2008 [10 favorites]


What grade level are you teaching?
Raid the recycling bin for printer paper that was only used on one side.
Try to explain to your students that office supplies are precious -- I remember shredding erasers to bits, chewing on pencils, sharpening them too often, breaking up pencil leads.
posted by OLechat at 8:16 AM on September 1, 2008


We used to make playdough at home, either for class projects or just to play with (lasts pretty well if kept in air-tight containers). Here's a recipe I found online, feel free to substitute food dye instead of the natural stuff. We did!

Nature's Playdough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
beet, spinach, and carrot juice

Mix flour, salt and oil, and slowly add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until dough becomes stiff. Turn out onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the playdough with your hands until of proper consistency. Use as is, or divide into balls and add a few drops of the vegetable juices to make green, pink, and orange.

------
In addition, I don't know how the other MeFites feel, but if you gave me more information about your school and the kids (so I know you're legit), I'd probably be willing to send you some stuff. I love buying school supplies.
posted by parkerjackson at 8:21 AM on September 1, 2008


You can also ask for bigger ticket items using Donors Choose. I know this isn't specifically what you are asking for, but it's another resource.
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 AM on September 1, 2008


I would also encourage you to ask friends, roommates, etc whether they have stuff around that they would be willing to donate. I have loads of office/art supplies that I don't need and would certainly give to a teacher in need.
posted by sulaine at 8:23 AM on September 1, 2008


My mother often buys in bulk at Sam's Club or using local stores that know of and cater to helping in situations like this. Call up a couple of stores and ask managers about what they can offer to support you, and ask other teachers about what they do, or where they shop. Try contacting the city/county/state where you live about the situation, but be aware that the educational authorities may get pissed off at your supervisors who may take it out on you for bringing the situation up.

My brother has also taught in a school like this, textbooks for 1/3 of his class size, and 500 sheets of white paper/semester for quizzes, tests, exams and everything else. I resorted to taking case after case of copy paper home from my college work study job to give to him. It wasn't ethical, but he and a dozen other teachers appreciated it.

I haven't used them, but there are also sites like DonnersChoose.
posted by Science! at 8:23 AM on September 1, 2008


Can you find a local organization such as a corporate office or restaurant that would be willing to put out donation bins for a school supply drive? People could either donate cash or needed school supplies from a list you provide.

I don't know if Half.com trades in elementary school or middle school textbooks, but the older editions are just as good as the current editions and sell for far less.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 8:23 AM on September 1, 2008


Or you can be like jessamyn and spell it correctly.
posted by Science! at 8:24 AM on September 1, 2008


When I was little my mom used to make us really soft rice instead of buying paste. It worked pretty well, and it was cheap (also it avoided the whole "eating paste" problem). I can't believe you don't have paper! My high school govt teacher was really environmentally conscious. He would print exams on the backs of already used worksheets. Also, he would bring in pens that his wife (a medical person of some sort) gave him. They were all from drug companies; she got hundreds of them for free (I, too seem to have so many of them from various medical people I know trying to get rid of them -- maybe you could ask around?). So we would use antidepressant pens to take quizzes.

Also, you might want to sign up on Donors Choose.
posted by bluefly at 8:26 AM on September 1, 2008


On preview: Oh, I see other people already mentioned Donors Choose :P
posted by bluefly at 8:27 AM on September 1, 2008


yeah, I'll throw a few bucks your way too if you have a papal account.
posted by busboy789 at 8:27 AM on September 1, 2008


I think the problem is quite bigger than what to do to replace glue! What are you supposed to do for the non-math work (for example, reading?) I thought all schools had curriculum that must be followed by all teachers, so that everyone (for example) is reading from the same selection of books?

A few ideas:
- Corporate sponsorship. At least where I live, poorer schools (not classes) pair up (usually via United Way) with corporations, who have drives to provide school supplies. Everyone who wants to participant in the company chips in a few dollars and viola! pencils for everyone!

- Go very, very old-school. Everything is oral recitation, writing is done on your chalkboard. Now you only need chalk.

- The library (school, or maybe a field trip to a local one, or maybe visited on your time) is your friend. They keep books, and you need them. See if you can check them out for the whole school term. Read them aloud to the class, and invite lots of discussion.

- The outdoors for crafts. Surely there's a playground? Can you collect leaves, look at clouds, plant bean sprouts to learn how things live?

- There are recipes out there for making your own craft supplies, but surely the reading/writing/arithmetic comes first. The one I know off the top of my head is that you can make play-doe. It involves flour, salt, and water. (Search for play doe DIY.)
posted by Houstonian at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2008


There is a freecycle group in New York. I would give it a try.
posted by Baud at 8:34 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


yeah, I'll throw a few bucks your way too if you have a papal account.

Papal account - that just made me laugh!

Can the families chip in anything? I'd at least send home a note of some needed supplies in the classroom and see if maybe someone donates something. They may be impoverished, but maybe they have an extra quarter to throw your way for a box of crayons. Maybe not, but it's always nice to ask - and maybe they'd like being asked.

Anyway - I ALWAYS do my school supply shopping for my kids in September (my kids start school in August). Around here, in September all of the school stuff is on clearance and needs to move out. The discounts are incredible. Last year I got their backpacks for this year for $2.00 each (they were $20-$30 backpacks on clearance). Crayons, glue, paper, notebooks, pencils, etc. literally go for pennies.

So, I propose that if the stores in your area (WalMart and Target) aren't putting stuff on clearance quite yet, maybe you could get a few minimal supplies at regular cost and make those items stretch until they do go on clearance, and then stock up! Get enough for the rest of this school year and for next year.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:39 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


My school gave me a classroom with no supplies. No paper, no pencils, no crayons, no books, no anything. Nada. My students come from impoverished homes and their parents can't afford school supplies, meaning I have to provide school supplies for 24 kids.

Is this a public school? Where is it located? Are there public schools in the U.S. that don't provide books or supplies? Seems hard to believe.
posted by JackFlash at 8:41 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


It looks like you are in New York - so sorry this might not immediately help -but are there any organizations such as SCRAP or the East Bay Depot For Creative Reuse (these two are in the SF bay area) back there? An organization of this sort might be able to get you started on some supplies, and can probably tap you into a network of office scrounging ...
posted by gyusan at 8:48 AM on September 1, 2008


OLechat: What grade level are you teaching?

JackFlash: Is this a public school? Where is it located?

Profile page says Location: New York City, Occupation: 2nd grade teacher
posted by Mike1024 at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2008


This is a public school in the Bronx. As I understand it, the NYC public schools each have control over their own budget, so they can spend money however they choose. Perhaps all the money goes to staff salaries because enrollment is so high. Or maybe it's just a poorly run school. Whatever the case is, the administration and teachers have assured me that the school will not provide me with anything. The school doesn't even allow the teachers to use the copy machine! The principal told me "it would be a good idea to buy one of those cheap $500 copy machines for my home." Ha. I can barely pay my rent and student loan payments.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2008


Another thought on reducing supply use-- be absolutely scary about wasting construction paper and other resources. It worked on me in 5th grade, but I don't know about 2nd grade. We did class projects with construction paper and you were strongly encouraged to look and think about where to place every template BEFORE marking and cutting the paper. Anyone who cut the first piece right out of the center was made an example of. I still can't waste paper, I was scarred for life.

Anyway, you don't have to be as scary as Ms. Hildreth, but setting an example, talking about HOW not to waste resources, and giving very good reasons for it can really reduce consumption and waste. Kids that age might not know what constitutes waste and how to avoid it unless you tell them specifically.
posted by parkerjackson at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2008


Hot Patatta, I'm in NYC, and I would enjoy helping out. I was at Staples yesterday, and noticed they were having big sales on supplies. If you'll put up a wishlist somewhere, I would love to help you out. Maybe you could let Mefi adopt your classroom? I don't have kids and never will. Could this be something appropriate for Projects?
posted by kimdog at 8:54 AM on September 1, 2008


Are there public schools in the U.S. that don't provide books or supplies? Seems hard to believe.
Books, yes (for a fee). As for supplies, most teachers are on their own as far as most supplies go. In my area, anyway. YMMV.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:56 AM on September 1, 2008


How about putting together a letter with what is going on. List your needs, and possibly other's needs and send to local businesses and I would include churches. Is the school willing to supply you with a number so you can let businesses can write it off their taxes? May be worth asking about.

Check your Mefi Mail.
posted by 6:1 at 9:02 AM on September 1, 2008


Are there public schools in the U.S. that don't provide books or supplies? Seems hard to believe.

In my area, kids are given a list of supplies that they must bring to class on the first day. However, textbooks and quite a bit more are supplied by the school district to the teacher. I find it absurd that a school would not supply books.

HotPatatta: Please look at this list, for second grade and then the checklist at the bottom of the page. Are these the kind of supplies you need for each student? Please let me know, and mefi me a mailing address. I can't support all the kids, but I can contribute some.
posted by Houstonian at 9:11 AM on September 1, 2008


Dollar stores have notebooks, looseleaf paper, sketch pads, crayons, pens and pencils. They're not the highest quality, but they're functional.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:17 AM on September 1, 2008


"Hmm.. do you have a Paypal account?"

I know when I asked about this in my area, teachers told me they really, really, really weren't allowed to accept money directly. Different areas (and circumstances) may differ, and bending the rules might be perfectly appropriate in dire circumstances.

Anyway, if you put up an Amazon wishlist of basics you need right now to start off the year, I'll buy fifty bucks worth of it to help get you going and no doubt others will jump in as well. Also consider posting to Craigslist, I've encountered some extremely generous people that way.

Also: don't buy cheap knockoff crayons. They're really brittle and your students will be using broken stubs in a week or two. Get the real thing for this one item.

" The school doesn't even allow the teachers to use the copy machine!"

Ask them if they would if you brought in a couple of cases of paper. I've encountered administrations that kept the machine to themselves because they didn't want classrooms eating up scarce paper (which they do voluminously). It might not be a control-freak thing.

Failing that, scrounge for an ancient used laser printer and a beat up old flatbed scanner. Less than $100 could build a slow but serviceable copy machine out of your computer. I did this with an el cheapo scanner and a geologically ancient Apple LaserWriter years ago.
posted by majick at 9:19 AM on September 1, 2008


Dude, sign up for Donors Choose or some such website and post in this thread that you've done so, but don't mention your username or any other identifying details. There's enough mentioned about you in the thread that with a couple of minutes of digging people can find you by location/grade. If we can't, we'll just donate to anther teacher who needs supplies as badly as you do.

Seriously, I was about to buy some 'things' online for my girlfriend this morning, but she'd appreciate a donation of the same amount a lot more.
posted by Science! at 9:25 AM on September 1, 2008


First of all, are you only the math teacher? Or are you responsible for the entire second grade class? If the latter, the curriculum is more important than the supplies; or rather, the supplies you need will follow upon the curriculum. For example, there isn't any inherent necessity for glue as a classroom supply - only if you are going to use it in a specific project.

At the absolute minimum, you will need a binder for each kid, with subdivisions for each subject, plus note paper, pencils (old fashioned wooden kind is fine), maybe a composition notebook, and a pencil sharpener for the classroom. This isn't a particularly expensive outlay.

For all classroom supplies other than notebooks, buy in bulk and keep them yourself (locked up or at home), instead of distributing to each kid.

But if you are really expected to come up with your own syllabus, then art and classroom supplies are the least of your problems. The curriculum is the most important thing, and the most expensive aspect of, um, schooling. Textbooks are expensive, even at the primary grade levels. What do the other teachers do? This situation sounds insane.

Does the school even have a list of the subjects you are supposed to teach? Or is this completely free form?
posted by Wavelet at 9:51 AM on September 1, 2008


At the absolute minimum, you will need a binder for each kid, with subdivisions for each subject, plus note paper, pencils (old fashioned wooden kind is fine), maybe a composition notebook, and a pencil sharpener for the classroom. This isn't a particularly expensive outlay. ... This situation sounds insane.

Huh? Aside from the pencil sharpener, I've never heard of a school where the students don't bring these supplies themselves. It's not insane for the school not to provide them. Just send a list of supplies the kids need to the parents. Whatever the school isn't paying for, assume the parents have to pay for it, except in cases where that would be truly infeasible.
posted by jejune at 10:14 AM on September 1, 2008


jejune--I would agree--but reread the post. The kids are impoverished. It's still worth a try, I agree.
posted by 6:1 at 10:29 AM on September 1, 2008


Are there public schools in the U.S. that don't provide books or supplies? Seems hard to believe.

I volunteered at an LA public school that didn't have English books for everyone, nor could they afford photocopies. Kids had to copy the questions out of the one set of shared books during class period and then take the hand copy home to do their homework. Needless to say, there was very little time for teaching. It was horrible.
posted by chuke at 10:48 AM on September 1, 2008


OK, I'm the president of my school's PTA, in a district which primarily serves low-income families. Our school supplies textbooks but students have to supply their own consumable supplies. Some thoughts.

My students come from impoverished homes and their parents can't afford school supplies

Send home a wish list anyway, there's no harm in asking. A 150 sheet packet of wide-ruled binder paper costs 50 cents at Walmart, a box of 24 pencils is under $1. In my experience, a little over half of the parents will send nothing but the remainder will send in a little extra. On back-to-school night, make the need for school supplies part of your presentation to the parents. Make up cards listing items grouped in affordable quantities (e.g. "x boxes of crayons", "x packets of binder paper"), tape the cards to your blackboard and encourage the parents to choose a card to sponsor. Really, ask the parents, even if you believe no one can afford it. At our school, there's always at least one family in every classroom who give a lot more than you'd expect.

If you don't have a site PTA/PTO, contact your local PTA council. Ask them for resources. They might not have supplies to hand out but they will know if there's any good free/low-cost local sources.

Got any printing companies in the area? Call them up and ask if they can give away any scrap paper. Hit up your local companies: at our school, the local supermarket, taquerias, and auto repair places donate supplies every time we ask.

As others have mentioned, post want ads on Freecycle and Craigslist. Be specific in the ads: "my classroom needs paper, we need crayons."

FWIW, before I started helping out at my school, I hated to ask for favors. I still don't, for myself, but when doing it for the benefit of the kids , I'm utterly shameless.
posted by jamaro at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2008


Oriental Trading Company - buy fun pencils in bulk.

Save your receipts for stuff that you buy. I seem to recall some thing on your taxes that educators can deduct for supplies for their classroom.

I am surprised that anyone is surprised by this. Even in my lower middle class '80s elementary school, the teachers had to buy most of their supplies.
posted by k8t at 11:20 AM on September 1, 2008


Contact local companies that sell advertising specialties/promotional products. I used to work for one, and we always had a few hundred misprinted (due to our mistake or the printers') pens and pencils around. We'd give them away to anyone who asked.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:12 PM on September 1, 2008


Huh? Aside from the pencil sharpener, I've never heard of a school where the students don't bring these supplies themselves. It's not insane for the school not to provide them. Just send a list of supplies the kids need to the parents.

I think the problem is if he does that and it fails - that is, if more than a few kids turn up without the pencil/paper/binder/whatever - he is unable to do his job.

Clearly, it would be preferable for the parents to hold up their end, but it seems unfortunate for the kid to suffer if they are unable or unwilling to do so.

Seems to me that school supplies for underprivileged kids is the sort of thing politicians would like to publicly be in favour of. I mean, education is right up there with care for disabled veterans and reducing violent crime. And there's a lot of political posturing going on at the moment.

Perhaps you could find a politician - or even a presidential candidate - who would be interested in the excellent PR opportunity of visiting your classroom and promising to increase your funding by what would in reality be a very affordable amount.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:14 PM on September 1, 2008


wow. i mean, wow. when i was in elementary school in the 80s, we were required to bring everything except the textbooks. when i was substituting in the same district in 2001, the school provided everything: paper, pencils, markers, everything, because families couldn't afford it so kids were going without and therefore not doing as well in school. so the school picked up where families couldn't.

so your school is full of poor kids and your school won't even let you use the copy machine. WHAT THE FUCK. this is insane. ultimately, i think you have more problems than missing school supplies...

but, that doesn't answer the question. if there's a commerce bank anywhere near you, ask them for a box of pens. lame, i know, but it's a free box of pens, and commerce gives those away like [insert similie here].

i nth the suggestion of using paper that has one blank side.

i'm metamailing you now....
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2008


It sounds like you need to go to the board of education and raise a stink- this is no way to run a school.

Failing that, find out how the other teachers get by.

Failing that, the basics are cheap. Hit Walmart and stock up. $40 well spent should keep you in pens and paper for months, if not the whole year. Instead of buying a $500 copier, get a $50 printer and use whatever passes for economode. This saves a ton of ink. Use the dirt-cheapest ink carts you can find. Quality isn't the issue here. Print on both sides. The kids won't care one whit about any of this if you use you teaching skills to engage their minds.
posted by gjc at 1:49 PM on September 1, 2008


I've heard of a method where parents organize a bulk buying of all supplies needed and distribute them to the kids. Say, if every parent pays 5 or 10 dollars, you can get supplies for all the kids at a bulk rate. I remember from my kindergarten classes that everyone had to bring in certain supplies, but they were divided up so that each kid (/parent) was responsible for one item that they then bought in bulk. It would be good to evaluate the ability of the students to pay for items first, though.

Or perhaps, if you know a teacher or student at a private school in the area, you could ask them if they could arrange some kind of donation effort to gather the more expensive supplies. I know a lot of private schools make their kids buy the books, which you might be able to get second-hand (I mean, who needs their old grammar book after second grade is over...).
posted by nursegracer at 2:28 PM on September 1, 2008


"Since 1978, Materials for the Arts has provided thousands of New York City's arts and cultural organizations, public schools and community arts programs with the supplies they need to run and expand their programs."
posted by saxamo at 6:36 PM on September 1, 2008


Just another "PM me your address or Amazon wish list URL and I'll gladly send you some supplies."
posted by mmoncur at 9:55 PM on September 1, 2008


Wow. I'm also surprised that this surprises people. I spent several years working in under-resourced schools where this is the norm. Something that works well for math classrooms is to go to Home Depot and get whiteboard (the stuff you'd use to line a shower stall) cut into 8x12" tablets. The kids can use erasable markers to write problems and answers on the boards and then hold them up for the teacher to see. This is perfect for 2nd grade.

I would also recommend that you start asking/begging around. Maybe you have friends with kids in a nice suburban/private school who would be interested in "sponsoring" your classroom? The kids could collect school supplies and learn an important lesson about educational inequality.
posted by jrichards at 6:40 AM on September 2, 2008


Your local newspaper may give out free 'end rolls' of paper, the ones where I live do.

The rolls are the width of a open newspaper and commonly have many feet worth of paper still on them that can be used for art projects or table coverings.
posted by gog at 12:24 PM on September 2, 2008


jejune--I would agree--but reread the post. The kids are impoverished.

So much that they can't afford pencil and paper? Unless they're homeless, I find that hard to believe.
posted by jejune at 3:18 AM on September 4, 2008


I'm probably too late, but... my daughter's preschool gets all its school supplies from Discount School Supplies.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:14 PM on September 20, 2008


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