Supply lists go beyond the No. 2 pencil

Schools require items such as laptops and boots

August 26, 2006|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

Pausing with her two young children in front of the display of Hello Kitty backpacks at the busy Target store in Towson, Leslie Sherrod was checking her progress against the list of back-to-school items required by her daughter's kindergarten.

Scrubbing sponges. Check. Paper plates. Check. Resealable bags, plastic cups, an eight-pack of crayons in bright colors. Check, check, check.

She needed only the "child-sized beach towel" and four sharpened "primary beginner pencils with erasers" and she would be ready for the kindergarten orientation scheduled for that night at Cromwell Valley Elementary School.

"Everybody's talking about the list," said Sherrod, a homemaker and author, holding the "Kindergarten Supply List" provided by the school where her daughter, Neyla, will start classes Monday. The list has 23 items, with separate supplies for boys and girls to bring in and ones that should be labeled, such as the towels used at rest time, and those that don't need to be, such as Play-Doh.

Parents such as Sherrod are quickly learning that back-to-school shopping no longer starts and stops with No. 2 pencils and notebook paper. The school-supply shopping list, posted on school Web sites and available at your neighborhood big box store, has grown in complexity and precision.

The lists can include laptop computers, rubber boots, a change of clothes, and specific brands of dry-erase markers and antibacterial soap. Often there are different lists for each grade level, and sometimes each teacher, meaning that families with several children may be roaming the aisles trying to abide by competing prohibitions against felt-tip pens or mechanical pencils.

"I'm just surprised at how much is on here," said Kimberly Mandley, who was shopping at Target for her daughter, a fourth-grader at Villa Cresta Elementary in Parkville.

And the material adds up at the cash register, too. A survey by the National Retail Federation estimates that families will spend an average of $527.08 on back-to-school shopping this year.

School districts say they have funds and donated goods to help poorer families.

Some schools ask parents to send a check toward the purchase of an assignment book or subscription to a magazine. Howard County's Clarksville Middle School requires eighth-graders to take a $55 check to pay for items such as workbooks, a magazine subscription and a Shakespeare program.

"It's the high price of providing a quality education," said Howard County schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

Many of the lists include prohibitions, especially on wheels. Most schools ban rolling backpacks that don't fit into lockers. At Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead, the physical education supply list includes a reminder that "skater shoes" - sneakers with embedded roller-skate wheels - are barred from the class. But packing deodorant, hair ties, tape for earrings and a container to store jewelry is a must.

Resealable bags have joined pencils and glue sticks as essential learning tools in the modern classroom. Nearly every elementary school requests them. Principals said the bags are used to organize flashcards and other small, loose items.

"We're always looking for ways to keep every moment on instruction," said Linda M. Chapin, principal of Mars Estates Elementary in Essex. "It doesn't waste time, and it keeps kids on task."

Technology is a must at some schools, especially private ones. Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson is a "laptop high school," said spokeswoman Cami Colarossi. For four years, students have needed a PC laptop for school.

McDonogh School spokeswoman Lynn McKain said students in the fifth through 12th grades are required to have Internet access at home, so they can access the online homework assignment system. Many faculty members communicate with students through the Internet, and there are notices for clubs that students can access from home.

Educators say supply lists reflect the evolving responsibilities of classroom teachers.

Some teachers request multicolored folders, for example, to keep track of course work and make the best use of precious class time because pressure to score well on standardized tests runs high. Hygiene products such as liquid soap and antibacterial wipes are on many schools' lists to cut down on illness and boost attendance figures, which have to be reported under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"They're much more intent in making sure every child learns," Beth K. Strauss, principal at New Town Elementary in Owings Mills, said of her teachers.

The lists may also reflect parental concerns. At Dundalk's Sandy Plains Elementary, for example, administrators heard worries that lice might be spread through headphones in the computer labs. The result: Families must take in a set for each child.

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