Monday, August 18, 2008

Notebooks and Pencils and Binders, Oh My!

I’m sitting here writing this blog rather than face the disaster that is our office. The floor is littered with bags from Target and Staples, and I am ready to tear my hair out as I try to figure out how many school supplies I truly need for my middle- and elementary-schooler and how much of it can be returned. Why do this now? Because now that those “1¢ for 300 notebooks, 100 pencils, and a file cabinet” sales are mostly over, we have received the supply lists.

Correct that: we have just received the supply list for my younger child. My middle-schooler received the supply list in the mail with the end-of-year report card (why they had to be mailed when grades closed five days before school ended is beyond me). And, since I'm one of those people who surfs websites of interest and clicks on EVERYTHING, I clicked on the teachers’ web pages in the grade my oldest is entering at the end of last year. There I found a similar supply list for that grade, a list that had a few different items mentioned, such as floppy disks on the web list versus a USB drive on the mailed list. So one might assume that the web list is older. Here’s the kicker. There are items on the web list, such as a scientific calculator, a protractor, a ruler, textbook covers. This is when Doubt with a capital "D" took a seat on my shoulder

Last year's list also DIDN'T have a few items listed, items that my middle-schooler informed me were needed the second night of school for the next day (a Friday, mind you). Similar to the “yeah, we’re having a class party tomorrow and I said you’d make cupcakes for the whole class!” surprise, I received the “oh, yeah, Mom, I need a book cover for tomorrow, you know, one of those stretchy ones”. The “oh, yeah” implies the unspoken “I realize it’s 8:21 at night, and there’s no way that you can get to any store that might carry the item I’m about to tell you I need for school tomorrow morning no later than 7:30, and that if I don’t have it the whole town will know what a lousy mother you are because you can’t see into the future and are unprepared for my last-minute office supply needs”.

So the items mentioned on the web list have also been purchased. Where the two lists have an item in common such as “pens” versus “6 erasable blue or black pens”, both regular AND erasable pens have been purchased, lest my middle-schooler’s teacher prefer the kind I didn’t buy. For those lucky enough to have teachers who will work with whatever you send in, thank your lucky stars. Unfortunately one or two experiences has proven that, when your student is told that a binder is required for the class and you send in a 1” blue binder, you will be informed that it must be a 1½” black binder and the 1” blue one WILL NOT cut it.

There is reason for concern with these unspoken, unwritten last-minute supply requests. During the book cover debacle, my offer of a plain brown paper bag for a cover (remember, the kind we used “back in the day” – great for doodling on!) was met with great angst and gnashing of teeth, and the cry of “no, my teacher said it HAD to be a stretchy one or else I have detention until I get one”. I had a meeting at the school that afternoon and happened to run into the teacher who had made the request. I explained I could not get to a store that evening to purchase the requested item, and that, if it were alright, the brown bag would have to be enough until I could get to a supply store. My comments were greeted with laughter, and I was told that as long as the book was covered, there would be no detention. But, in speaking with other mothers at the meeting, they said their students had made similar claims. More troubling was that detention was being threatened for non-conformers for a last-minute supply addition, a request that was never communicated to the parents.

But unless you speak directly with the teacher, what do you do? Drop everything during the first few days of the school year and run all over the place? Pay through the nose for the last one available from the back recesses of the store, the same item that had been on sale not a month ago for 5¢, the item that your student will greet with “I’m not using something that’s THAT color!”? I’m too much of a penny-pincher to pay full price, and with the cost of everything else this year, every penny is being pinched. And many parents (including the one or two who may read this) may think I’m whining too much about this situation. Maybe I am. I just don’t understand how a simple supply list cannot be complete AND given out at the start of the summer. Really, is there that drastic a change in the items a student needs for a particular grade from year to year? Is it that much to ask that we get the list at the start of the summer? After all, people are busy year-round. Isn’t the cost of gas forcing many to limit our driving and plan out our errands?

Give us parents a break. If school budgets are that tight that we, the parents, on OUR tight budgets, are required to buy all our kids’ supplies with the exception of copier paper and textbooks, could we at least be told EXACTLY what they will need for the school year when they leave school for the summer?

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