Being a schoolteacher takes a lot of work.
It also takes a lot of money: The average teacher spends between $600 and $1,500 a year of his or her own money on classroom supplies – things like books, posters, games and furnishings as well as paper, pencils and other basics to supplement what students bring (or often don’t bring) to school.
“I’m always shopping garage sales, looking for bargains,” said Heather Jayne, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Little Early Childhood Center in Wichita. “It gets expensive.”
A Wichita church wants to ease that burden by establishing a free store for teachers, where people or companies could donate supplies and teachers could pick them up to use in their classrooms.
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“There’s a lot of wins to this idea,” said Terry Johnson, executive pastor of GracePoint Church in Wichita.
“We really believe that if we can give teachers the tools they need to teach effectively, that’s going to transfer over to how they teach the students.”
The church recently established a nonprofit organization called Project Teacher, which seeks to open a volunteer-run free store for teachers that is stocked with supplies donated by the community. The store will be next door to the church in the Westlink Shopping Center at Central and Tyler.
The idea was inspired by Schoolhouse Supplies in Portland, Ore., which distributed more than $430,000 worth of supplies during the 2010-11 school year. It also was inspired by stories of teachers who sometimes risk their lives for their students.
“With the Sandy Hook shooting, seeing teachers in the line of fire and everything, that was a big deal for me,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s wife was a student-teacher and their son was a first-grader at the time of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman killed 20 children and six school staff members. Not long after, Johnson heard stories about teachers in Moore, Okla., who threw themselves on top of students to shield them from flying debris during a tornado that leveled two schools.
“These are people who literally are on the front lines with children,” he said. “And when you ask what you can do for them, how you can help … they say, ‘I could really use some Expo markers.’ ”
Church officials hope the teacher supply store can open in time for next school year. They are encouraging individuals, companies, churches and other organizations to donate cash or supplies to get it started. GracePoint Church will store the supplies until the store is ready to open.
In the meantime, the church has partnered with several area schools to offer classroom supplies and other help. It donated money to two Oaklawn elementary schools that were damaged by a tornado two years ago and helped teachers at College Hill Elementary replenish classroom supplies after a fire last August damaged parts of their school.
During Teacher Appreciation Week earlier this month, church volunteers served lunch to teachers at Little Early Childhood Center on North Piatt.
“We’re just attempting to say yes to something and see who is inspired to get involved,” said Mike Snow, a GracePoint pastor.
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“If the awareness is there, maybe people will begin to have a different perspective. And when they go buy a sale item, whether it’s pencils or wipes or whatever, maybe they’ll grab some extras and bring it in.”
Eventually, organizers hope companies will donate overstocked supplies such as copy paper, notebooks, promotional materials and other things teachers could use in their classrooms. They also hope to host supply drives to raise awareness and stock the store shelves.
“One thing I really love about Wichita is that our community can really rally together,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing like this that we know of in the city, and I think there’s a lot of potential here.”