‘Our kids deserve the same as everyone else’: Some Richmond teachers purchase own supplies

Fifth grade teacher Miriam Thomas adjusts decorations she purchased for her classroom at Barack Obama Elementary School. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Katie Hollowell, Contributing Writer

Richmond Public Schools gave every teacher a $150 Amazon gift card for back-to-school shopping, but teachers say it “goes really fast” and they have to reach into their own pockets to get their classrooms ready.

Miriam Thomas, a fifth grade science and social science teacher at Barack Obama Elementary School, said the gift cards are helpful, but many of her problems as a teacher extend beyond a lack of supplies. Some air conditioners are leaky, and the buildings need repairs, she said.

“And more and more gets cut, and it’s allocated to other things,” Thomas said. “Then we don’t have the things that we need to teach the kids.”

Barack Obama Elementary School fifth grade teacher Miriam Thomas waters a plant she purchased for her classroom. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Thomas said some supplies, such as tables, desks and chairs, are paid for by the school, but other supplies are out of pocket. Teachers have to pay for decorations, books and extra supplies.

“It isn’t just about decorating the room and making it feel homey, but that’s important. I want the hands on activities. I want extra resources that other counties have that we don’t have in the city,” Thomas said. “Our kids deserve the same as everyone else.”

For college students looking to help, Thomas suggested creating donation drives throughout the year for supplies, winter clothes and snacks for kids “who may not have a dinner when they go home.” She said students could create a club devoted to helping a local school, and fraternities and sororities could turn it into a community service project.

Retired Richmond Public Schools teacher Lisa Joseph estimated she spent $250-300 or more a year on supplies.

Joseph, who taught at Thomas Jefferson High School for 11 years and used to teach accounting at VCU, said media was a large part of her expenses.

“I remember always buying my own things, flashcards and markers,” Joseph said. “At the time we didn’t have YouTube, I bought a lot of videos and CDs.”

A trend that started with a Texas teacher’s Facebook group called “Teacher Amazon Gifting,” spread into the hashtag #clearthelist on Twitter and Facebook. Teachers can create wishlists on Amazon for their classroom supplies and share it to their social media pages.

Chara Robinson, a former teacher and parent to Henrico County Public Schools students, says the social media trend makes the financial struggles of teachers more apparent to the average person online, and people can see specifically how they’re helping. 

 “I think people are more aware of all the weight put on teachers. Testing, long hours, parenting students in many cases, pay that doesn’t keep up with all the hours or years working, needed supplies,” Robinson said. “So the public looks for ways to support them.”

There are also other ways people can help support their local public schools. Robinson said community members should give schoolchildren “what is best for them.”

“We’re in the middle of your neighborhood, in the middle of your city,” Robinson said. “We’re raising up people who are going to take over and lead all of this, why would we not want the best for them? Why would we not work together?”

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