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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Get Free Teaching Materials

Educators share tips for stocking up on complimentary classroom supplies.
By Tamar Snyder, Edutopia
Credit: Klaus Larsen

In this tough economy, funding for classroom supplies is growing increasingly scarce. Even in good times, K-12 public school teachers can easily dole out $500-$1,000 of their own money a year for supplies.

But as school budgets continue to tighten, that figure could escalate, says James Rosenberg, president and founder of Adopt-A-Classroom, which has raised $10 million for supplies for 20,000 classrooms in all 50 states during the past decade.

Rather than reaching deeper into your own pockets, here are some grassroots tips from creative educators for getting free supplies despite budget cuts, and leads to organizations that help teachers get the goods they need.

Don't Buy What's Free

Look into these strategies for obtaining free materials:

  • Recycling. Jennifer Volpe, a former speech pathologist at Cobble Hill High School, in Brooklyn, New York, recommends a nonprofit recycling site called Freecycle, where people from all over the world post books, CDs, electronics, and toys they're giving away. "The only catch is that you have to arrange to pick up the items," says Volpe.
  • Free shopping spree. Teachers at schools in which at least 60 percent of students qualify for free lunch can take part in a monthly shopping spree at resource centers such as A Gift for Teaching, in Orlando, Florida, which gets many of its new supplies donated as surplus from businesses. For teachers at schools where 70 percent of the population qualifies for free lunch, the Kids in Need Foundation has built a network of 25 free school-supply resource centers around the country. Other local associations that gather and distribute free supplies include the Teacher Resource Center of the North Bay, in Napa County, California, Schoolhouse Supplies in Portland, Oregon, and the Teacher Supply Depot in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Try an online group. Join a Yahoo Group or a Google Group in your community and post a request for the supplies you need.

Put Your Classroom Up for Adoption

Adopt-A-Classroom offers a free, safe online e-wallet account to educators who want to solicit financial support from the community. Teachers can use the money to purchase books, games, and other educational supplies through the online vendors associated with the site.

To sign up, log on to the site, register your classroom, and describe what kinds of supplies you'd like to buy. Then let parents and local businesses know that they can "adopt" your classroom for as little as $25.

Go for the Big Score

OfficeMax, in partnership with Adopt-A-Classroom, hosts the annual A Day Made Better event in October. Each year, the office superstore surprises 1,000 teachers in their classroom with $1,000 each worth of school supplies, including classroom-supply staples like scissors, glue sticks, pencils, pens, notebooks, tissues, and even a digital camera. The store also hosts in-store school supply drives that customers can contribute to.

Teachers who'd like to be considered for the next A Day Made Better should have a school principal or fellow teacher nominate them at the official site.

Raise Funds for Supplies

Neeta Garg, owner of the Kumon Math and Reading Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, wanted to help local teachers. So she organized a school-supplies drive. She sent flyers and emails to parents, and her daughter posted the event on Facebook. In addition to hundreds of donated pencils and notebooks, she collected gloves, coats, and backpacks -- all of which she donated to area public schools.

And at Wilmot Elementary School, in Deerfield, Illinois, parent-teacher organization (PTO) fundraisers pay for a lot of supplies. Teachers fill out wish lists of the classroom supplies they'd like, from pencil sharpeners to cooking utensils. The PTO organizes fundraisers throughout the year, including a Market Day, when students and their families can order food from a catalog once a month.

Start a Gift Registry

Gift registries aren't just for weddings anymore. At DonorsChoose, public school teachers can post online requests for equipment and supplies. (Read an Edutopia article with tips for successfully using DonorsChoose.) Supply Our Schools allows teachers in low-income school districts to register for classroom supplies. Digital Wish allows teachers to create a classroom technology wish list that supporters can browse and fund.

Sell Advertising Space

Tom Farber, an Advanced Placement calculus teacher at San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High School, made headlines when he asked parents and local businesses to sponsor his exams. "I knew that I had to do something," said Farber, explaining that if he gave one quiz per chapter to each of his 167 students, he'd spend more than $500 (roughly $3 a student) on photocopies alone.

So Farber began selling a small amount of space at the bottom of each exam. He charges $10 per quiz, $20 for tests, and $30 per final. Most sponsors use motivational quotes, such as this gem: "A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants trees under which he full well knows he will never sit."

In the fall semester of 2009, Farber raised more than $625 -- enough to cover a year's worth of photocopies.

Tamar Snyder is an Edutopia.org contributor in New York City.
Last updated: 11/02/2011 by Sara Bernard

Comments (10)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Kevin Verrette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We are a small, full inclusion model public school in Boston MA. Although we have a vibrant music program, we are trying to develop a Music Tech lab. Also, we would to obtain a few choral risers to use for our Spring Concert.

thanks!

Stephen Jacob's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find it kind of horrifying that the three comments are rife with sloppiness. One is in all-caps and omits spaces after commas, etc. The other two fail to use capital letters to begin sentences or to use punctuation to delineate sentences, etc. I don't think this is representative of how educators write -- I certainly hope not, as how can we expect our children to learn to write correctly if their teachers do not?

Tracy Mendham's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It's great that some organizations and businesses want to help schools, but shouldn't we think twice about selling advertising space on instructional materials? Also, I'm sure those packages from Office Max serve their own commercial ends before that of the educational goals. I'm surprised that Tara Snyder includes no mention of where one might draw the line here. I recommend the Media Education Foundation's film "Captive Audience" for an engaging introduction to this issue.

I agree with Stephen Jacob that the errors in the comments are slightly horrifying, but I'm assuming that some of the posts are from folks trolling the site and not actual educators.

Jerry Hall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks Edutopia for mentioning our non-profit website iLoveSchools.com in this issue. Since 2003 we've been the first and only web-based non-profit matching any of America's school teachers with generous donors of new, used or in-kind classroom resources. All at zero cost to the teachers or schools we have been fortunate to serve.

Starting the first week of September 2009 we're launching our new site which is a tremendous community-building resource. Now, teachers and school administrators have the ability to create WishLists of anything they need. By shopping through a fully equipped ecommerce store any teacher can add technology, education-focused tools, supplies as well as a wide variety of classroom or facility resources directly to their WishList. Resources not found in our store can be requested through a custom WishList. We then work with our volunteers to find and place the resources. At every opportunity we help teachers promote their personalized home page and we share in finding local and national donors to give.

To support our schoolchildren any individual, parent, PTA, PTO, Education Foundation, local and national business can use iLoveSchools.com to focus their giving directly where it is most needed. Using our simple ClassroomFriend group tool any individual, group or business can help spread the word about teachers they care most about. It's simple to add any teacher, school, district, or any one of their individual WishLists, to a personalized ClassroomFriend group complete with photo and introductory message. To help spread the word more easily ClassroomFriend groups are able to submit a unique website address, such as MarysChocolates.iLoveSchools.com, while inviting everyone who cares about our educational system to visit and make any donation large or small.

iLoveSchools.com then coordinates with it's suppliers to have the new resources drop-shipped to the classroom while most often donors giving gently-used resources happily drop their donation off to the school. Teachers are invited to thank all the donors electronically with personalized message, student comments and a photo or video.

Every donation to iLoveSchools.com includes a 100% guilt-free 'ask' for a contribution so we can continue to run our business. We want donors to give to us based on our level of efficiency not as a mandatory fee. We believe donors passionately want to decide who's benefiting from their donation, how much of their gift goes for any administration by the non-profit and what outcome their donation creates. So, we take only 3% for charge card fees and the remaining balance goes to the classroom. We hope every donor gives a litle to us as well so we can continue our important mission.

Individuals and businesses all have resources that are treated like gold in the classroom. So, we invite everyone to look around and see if they don't have new or gently-used resources that might fit in a classroom. Simply post a DonorOffer and give them to a local school or, any school around the country.

As we launch the newest version of iLoveSchools.com we are tremendously proud of having the ability to give back to teachers. They selflessly taught us so much, many times with so little and all the while using their own out-of-pocket money. Can you think of any other group of employees that take a significant part of their own paycheck to buy resources to better serve their employer's clients? Teachers do this every day, most often quietly and too often under-appreciated, because they believe, with a little extra classroom resources, they can help our schoolchildren become more successful now and throughout their lives. We believe we're a great opportunity to spread the word about resource sharing and how we can all work together to stand by our teachers. So, thanks again. We're appreciative of your helping get the word out to both potential donors and teachers. Our schoolchildren's futures depend on the entire community working together, standing side by side with our teachers.

Cathy's picture

Please be aware that not all of the posts are from teachers but rather from parents in need! Those comments "rife" with error do not represent the entire teaching populace and to judge as such is an unwarranted criticism that distracts from the efforts of Edutopia and its supporters!

Cheryl Williams's picture

To Memorie: I think you should probably contact Social Services. Also, don't be afraid to be honest with teachers about your situation, we have heard stories like yours many times. I usually ask the kids to bring extras if they have it, for those who cannot pay. They come through every time. Kids love to be generous! Also, we sometimes have extras lying around. (This site is for teachers who are trying to supply entire classrooms.) Good luck! Also, try dollar stores?

Cheryl Williams's picture

To Cathy: I believe that LauraPaige made a good point concerning the need for people (who educate children) to have decent writing skills. Apparently, you took offense as LauraPaige referred to the posters as "teachers", but if you were to read the posts "carefully", you would have noticed that the "grammatically-challenged" posters were all adults who planned to use the requested materials to "teach" children. And that is indeed horrifying!

Even home-schoolers should have access to materials through the public school system. And a teacher should be available to monitor the student's progress. And I'm wondering why the pastor cannot appeal to his congregation or to another one of the same faith? (If not try ModestNeeds.org) Ft. Lauderdale is a big city. Your idea is truly noble, (to give kids extra practice), but surely you could find a volunteer with writing skills? Perhaps you could team up, since you are probably the one with the charisma.

I feel for you all. I do. But I attended college for six years so that I could take on the tremendous responsibiity of educating our children. Some of you simply are not qualified. Sorry.

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist

From my archives ...

Before the first day of class last August I put a rectangular basket, almost the size of a loaf of bread, up on the metal cabinet in the back of The Cozy Room of Learning to put pencils in. Pencils I knew I'd be collecting from off of the floor after class was dismissed when I'd mope around the room rearranging desks, collecting jackets, expensive laptop computers, binders, and textbooks. Mostly science textbooks are left behind. I have no idea why.

I knew from my substitute teaching days that if a kid really needed a pencil then all he had to do was to look on the floor somewhere.

I brought the basket home yesterday, and today, since I don't have a sixth period exam, here I am having a nice mid-week day off feeling and looking a little lunaticky in my gross bathrobe.

I poured the basket on the floor to find an answer to something I've wondered about for ten months ...

# 80 total items collected from Wednesday, August 12 to Monday, May 24
# 1 highlighter: light blue
# 3 mechanical pencils
# 6 pens
# 70 pencils ... of which 2 were brand new and didn't have a point yet; 4 pencils were broken; and 23 pencils were still a few inches long with a point but didn't have an eraser. Gnawed off? Pulled off? Eaten?

I know you've got some questions and concerns. Let me go ahead and comfort you with my reason: It was because I wanted to see how many utensils I'd collect in a school year. About as simple and goofy as that. But the real moral of this weird one is this for all people of the world: What you need is probably right there at your feet. That is, before you ask for some help ... try to do the thing yourself.

That sounds about right.

www.adixiediary.com

Lesley's picture
Lesley
2nd & 3rd Grade Secular Homeschoolers

""I feel for you all. I do. But I attended college for six years so that I could take on the tremendous responsibility of educating our children. Some of you simply are not qualified. Sorry.""

What a narcissistic and pompous thing to say! I am not sorry to say you sure are full of yourself! Glad you won't have your wretched qualified claws anywhere near my children's minds! PS. I guess you are not qualified enough to SPELL CORRECTLY. Good day!

Jennifer Owen's picture

In-fighting amongst ourselves on message boards takes the focus off the real issue at hand. We should instead be asking ourselves, why do sites like donorschoose even need to exist? What is the government doing about school funding while we're distracted by message board arguments and non-public donation sources? How can we band together to do something about the bigger problem-- our grossly underfunded schools?

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