As students return to the classroom, back to school shopping can be overwhelming, pricey and time consuming.
It’s not uncommon for kids, some as young as 6 or 7, to head to school with more than 20 required items – everything from pencils, crayons and markers to highlighters, folders, Ziploc bags, six-quart containers and earphones.
Schools across the country, and in our own H-F backyard, are taking measures to alleviate some of the stresses caused by back to school shopping at the start of a new academic year.
However, while schools are making strides, some parents prefer the old-fashioned way.
Kisha Brown, who has three kids, all in different schools — Western Avenue School, Parker Junior High School and H-F High School — has to go through extensive back to school shopping but doesn’t mind as long as her kids have fun.
“I’ve thought of buying things in bulk and doing what they call bundling, but it takes away from the going back to school shopping fun and excitement that the kids get when we step in Walmart, especially my third grader who gets so excited to pick the different color folders and crayons and spirals that he wants,” said Brown, who lives in Flossmoor.
Brown understands that not bundling supplies can get expensive, so she figured out how to control spending.
“I have three kids so initially I started buying everything on the list. However, as time went on, I just started to buy what I believed to be necessary. So let’s say they ask for a six-pack of paper towels, I would just get the three-pack and call it a day. I always first get the basics like crayons, markers, spirals and pencils.
“With my youngest, who is in third grade, I make sure he has everything he needs. But I no longer just buy in abundance anymore,” Brown said. “The prices from year to year pretty much stay the same, but something that I do now is repeat supplies and use what is left over from previous years, because we would always buy in abundance.”
Brown sometimes buys a supply that can last for more than one year. Some items, such as spiral notebooks, are inexpensive and can be purchased for as little at 25 cents. She also knows she can supplement supplies during the year.
“What I don’t get at the beginning of the year I will get towards the middle of the school year or I will wait until the teacher sends a memo reminding us that the kids need them. Then I will go out and buy it. Loose leaf and glue sticks are a big thing in the classroom so I definitely make sure they have those on the first day of school,” Brown said.
Local schools are beginning to understand the stress some families and children experience in having to buy school supplies and take them to school on the first day. Western Avenue and Heather Hill schools in Flossmoor have taken strides with hopes of alleviating families of the burden of school supply shopping. The schools are working with a company, Educational Products Incorporated (EPI), that bundles grade level school supplies and delivers them to the school. The boxes are then distributed to each classroom via the school PTO.
“We found Educational Products Incorporated (EPI) through Heather Hill who has been using them for about three years,” said Karen Cheung, the PTO’s District 161 liaison at Western Avenue. “We talked to and received quotes from a variety of different companies that offered similar service but we really just had a comfort level with EPI because their prices happened to be the lowest and because Heather Hill used them multiple times without issues.”
Cheung has a kindergartner and a third grader who both attend Western Avenue. Cheung helped organize and incorporate EPI into the school’s agenda three years after the program came to Heather Hill.
“Western didn’t catch on as quickly because we needed a volunteer to step up to manage it,” she said. “The PTO runs it so it was really just about having a parent take the wheel and start organizing it.”
While EPI makes back to school shopping much less of a task, the work doesn’t disappear, it is simply passed to the PTO.
Cheung said as a PTO volunteer handing out the boxes and organizing them per classroom she found it ” was definitely a lot more work than if the kids brought their supplies to school themselves.” Cheung said as a parent “I understand the ease of it all when you can just go online and have what your child needs for an entire school year with the click of a button.”
Mary Murray, the PTO president and mother of a fifth grader, praised EPI for its services.
“I can attest that it is so much easier than going out and buying supplies,” Murray said. “I normally spend at least $100 on school supplies for my daughter and this year, through EPI, I spent $38 and I don’t have to worry about packing everything and sending my daughter off to school with all her supplies on the first day.”
In District 161, EPI is also available at Serena Hills and Flossmoor Hills schools.
In the future, the district is preparing to have a unified back to school supply list in order to keep costs low for each grade level, including Parker Junior High.