With economy still tight, elementary schools try to pare down school supply lists

Helping hands

The Ballard Center and Penn House will be distributing school kits — backpacks that contain school supplies — this year to hundreds of children who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches. The program covers students in kindergarten through sixth grade; kindergartners through third-graders also may receive new shoes.

Donations are still being accepted, in the form of new supplies or money or gift cards that could be used to purchase new supplies. Backpacks are always a major need, said Seth Peterson, administrative manager.

“We’ll do what we can to see that everybody gets taken care of,” he said.

For more information or to donate, call or stop by the Ballard Center, 708 Elm, 842-0729; or Penn House, 1035 Pa., 842-0440.

ECKAN already has closed applications for its school supplies program, and distribution is set for Thursday.

Barbie Gossett doesn’t mind seeing Play-Doh, watercolor paints and baby wipes erased from this year’s list of kindergarten school supplies.

The lone addition — two boxes of No. 2 pencils — more than makes up for losing a few extras.

“Now we can write!” she said Monday, an honest-to-goodness smile beaming across her face, as she readied her classroom at Woodlawn School. “Now I won’t have to bother the first-grade teachers anymore. Or the parents.”

The replacement of perceived extras with bonafide essentials comes by design, as administrators working on the Elementary School Supply List for 2010-11 took note of the struggling economy and worked to keep expenses to a minimum.

Evidence of their efforts: Unlike past years, the needs listed for each grade managed to fit on a single page.

“Knowing that times are hard, we don’t want families to be spending on things that aren’t as needed in the classroom,” said Jeanne Fridell, Woodlawn principal and co-chair of the supply list effort for elementary schools.

Midwestern families are expected to spend an average of $83.35 this year on supplies that include backpacks, notebooks, folders, lunchboxes and, yes, pencils, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s less than the national average of $96.39.

Fridell figures that the average likely would be lower in the Lawrence district, but still significant. She co-chaired the committee that came up with the supplies list for the more than 5,000 students who attend the district’s 15 elementary schools.

The effort, she said, yielded a “common-ground list,” featuring items commonly used in every school: a backpack, a pair of scissors, dry-erase markers and more.

“There were some things on the old supply list that were used at some schools and not at other schools,” Fridell said. “We were trying to come up with a common-ground list.”

Gossett isn’t getting rid of all the fun, though. Tucked away in two drawers at the back of class are stacks of baby wipes and a few sets of Play-Doh containers — leftovers soon to be pressed into instruction, perhaps by the end of the month.

“We’ve stocked up for the last three years,” she said, with a chuckle.

Gossett plans to borrow watercolors, as needed, from the school’s art teacher.