Center offers teachers free school supplies

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 12:38 a.m.

Many public school teachers accept spending their own money on their classrooms and students as a part of the job.

But a new center is promising to ease some of that burden for Alachua County's teachers.

Tools for Schools will allow teachers to shop for free for school supplies that area businesses and residents have donated.

The center held its grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.

"It's a testament to school teachers that they dig deep into their pockets every year," County Commissioner Mike Byerly said. "I think we all understand that it shouldn't have to be that way."

That's where Tools for Schools comes in, he said.

The Alachua County Public Works Department is working with the school district to operate the center, located next to Williams Elementary School in southeast Gainesville.

Tools for Schools will be open on Monday and Wednesday afternoons.

The rules of shopping differ for teachers based on the profile of their school. Teachers at schools with more than half its enrollment eligible for free and reduced-price meals - an indicator of poverty - may attend once a month and select as many as 15 items, said Alexia Szabo, the waste alternatives specialist in charge of the center.

For other public schools, one teacher representing each grade level may shop at the facility monthly.

The Public Works Department is asking local businesses and residents to identify materials that often are thrown away that could be used in the classroom.

Though the store stocks common items such as pens, pencils, glue notebooks, crayons, rulers and scissors, Szabo said surplus office supplies or materials also are useful to aid creative learning.

These include unused books, ribbon, binders, letterhead, desk calendars, plastic moldings and fabrics.

"The only way the store can survive is through donations from the business community," Szabo said. "The whole idea is to save landfill space by reusing materials that would get thrown away."

Teachers average spending $443 a year out-of-pocket on teaching supplies, with beginning and elementary school teachers spending more, according to a 2001 survey of teachers by the National Education Association, the nation's biggest teachers union.

In Alachua County, more than half of elementary-aged students qualify for federally subsidized meals, and teachers report that many attend class lacking school supplies.

Tools for Schools is modeled after a similar reusable resource center in Orlando, and is housed in a remodeled convenience store.

Noting the facility's location, 1147 SE 7th Ave., Tools for Schools exhibits a display with memorabilia and photos from Lincoln High School, the all-black high school that was an east Gainesville fixture for 58 years.

Douane D. James can be reached at 374-5087 or

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