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Teachers dipping into their own pockets to provide back-to-school supplies

Michelle Wirth / RiverTown Multimedia

RED WING, Minn. — By the time the flurry of back-to-school bedlam begins to subside, the proverbial dust begins to settle, and the sun sets on the final day of summer freedom, many teachers have dipped into their own pockets to purchase supplies for their classrooms.

On average, according to education publishing company Scholastic, educators spent an average of $530 of their own money for classroom items last school year.

Emily Nelson, fifth-grade teacher at Twin Bluff Middle School in Red Wing, said most teachers she knows spend private funds on classroom supplies every year.

PREVIOUSLY: School supply lists add up

"Purchasing supplies can be a hardship for many families, so we do what we can to ease that burden," Nelson said. "I choose to spend my own money because if I didn't, many students would go without, or I would not be able to enrich my curriculum with hands-on experiences that require additional materials."

Nelson said teachers do get a budgeted amount of money from the Red Wing Public Schools for supplies, but it's difficult to stretch those dollars to cover all the materials they use in a year.

According to, an organization working to provide students with the supplies they need while mitigating teachers' expenses, 91 percent of teachers purchase basic school supplies for students whose families are unable to do so.

In Red Wing, Nelson said teachers are fortunate to have access to donated supplies through programs like United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha & Pierce Counties' Stuff the Bus supply drive as well as some general donations, without which, Nelson said, would leave many students unprepared for school.

"In previous years when my classroom has run out of supplies like pencils, glue sticks, or paper, parents have been more than willing to send additional supplies with their students upon request," Nelson said.

Nelson said teachers try to limit their student supply list to reasonable essentials and try to be as frugal as possible.

In a Scholastic survey sent out to 4,721 public school educators in the summer of 2016:

• 76 percent said they use their own money for decorations,

• 74 percent spent money on supplies such as notebooks and pencils, and

• 70 percent bought food and snacks for their classroom.

While Nelson said she uses her own funds to purchase extra sets of items from the supply list, most of what she purchases is for projects, or special items that fill a specific need including books, enrichment supplies, classroom organization or things that make her classroom a more comfortable and inviting place to learn.

Jody Bergeson, Twin Bluff Middle School fifth-grade math and science teacher, echoed those sentiments.

"I believe in public education, and in order to provide a vibrant curriculum, students need certain supplies," she said. "If I didn't provide the materials, students would miss out on many opportunities, like science labs, for example."

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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