Teachers don’t think the way most people do. When they see Styrofoam packing materials, teachers will string the little shapes together to make objects for youngsters to learn to count.
With broken-down keyboards, they’ll use letter keys to teach the alphabet. Give a teacher some spare paper and a laminating machine, and they’ll create reams of colorful, durable lesson tools, decorations and classroom cut-outs.
Several of the 750 or so teachers who Friday crowded into the Duval Teachers Supply Depot said that’s what they planned to do with some of the free classroom materials they snagged.
Every year the depot, an old school building on Lenox Avenue, collects rooms full of donations and classroom materials from area businesses and philanthropists and it organizes and gives them to teachers for free, to cut down the cost of equipping classrooms and needy students.
U.S. teachers spent an average $600 of their own money last year on school supplies and students, according to AdoptAclassroom.org. They buy the basics, such as books, pencils and pens, but also food, clothing and hygiene products for students.
“It’s an investment in the future. I’m there to make a difference,” said Vicki Cornwell, a first-grade teacher at Lovegrove Elementary who said she spent $1,500 on her class last year.
At Duval’s depot, educators started lining up at 4 a.m., even though doors didn’t open until 8:30 a.m. When the depot closed at 1 p.m. there were still teachers inside trying to fill their maximum of three tote or grain bags.
There were six pallets full of thousands of binders, hundreds of new trash cans, two 5-foot-high stacks of poster board paper. Boxes and shelves of books crowded most rooms and filled most of an auditorium.
There was a “huge” run on Elmer’s glue, with teachers limited to six bottles each, said Rachel Raneri, a volunteer, because teachers and kids have discovered how to use the glue to make colorful slime with it. There also was a limit on pumpkin baskets, one per classroom.
“The business community has really embraced helping teachers,” said Chris Buckley, who runs the depot and supervised about 100 volunteers. “Everybody gets here early and stays forever.”
Andrew Hostetler was balancing a 35-pound box of poster paper with two and a half bags full of pencils, snack boxes and an organizer. He’ll be teaching geometry at First Coast High after several years teaching in Arkansas.
“I’ve got a plethora of different cylinders, so my students can calculate volume and do math-y stuff,” he said. “If you’re a creative person, there’s no telling what you can get for your classroom here.”
Stephanie Jones, who’s teaching first grade at Biscayne Elementary, snared a box of form boards for students to cut out body parts to make skeletons and body models. She also happily acquired boxes of printer paper, since teachers never get enough of it.
She and her co-teaching partner, Katie Burnfield, also took fabric that they’ll cut into capes for students to decorate and wear as classroom super heroes. Their school theme is “Knowledge is a super power.”
Jones said she gets a stipend each year from the school for supplies, but she spends $250 beyond that to make sure her 36 students have what they need, even if their parents can’t afford it.
“Really, I’m just making the classroom welcoming and making sure we have enough materials … for people so that nobody is left out,” she said.
Rovenia Shaw, a music teacher at Biscayne, took long wooden sticks which she’ll cut into smaller, makeshift drum sticks for her students to play rhythms on buckets, she said. And she got seeds and medicine bottles to make shakers. She said she also snagged some yarn, which she’ll use with knitting needles, so her students can knit while listening to classical music.
Ray M. Price, who’ll be teaching engineering and technology classes at Mayport Middle School, found several boxes of drafting kits. Students will have more than just computers and textbooks to work with, he said.
“I’ll give each group a different piece of equipment and have them try to figure out what it’s for,” he said. One box of tracing tools allows students to copy a design, making it much larger or smaller.
“This is how things were done by hand. … I want them to know how it was done originally so they can appreciate the technology better. “
He said if he had bought the tools himself, it would have cost hundreds. Last year, when Price taught high school chemistry he paid $500 on a single kit to equip his class with hands-on science materials.
Junior Rodney, who’ll be teaching Math at Ribault Middle School, said teachers spend their own money when they see a classroom need instead of waiting for administrators to fund it because they feel they have little time to engage students.
“Sometimes you only have that one chance to get through to your kid,” he said. “You have to take that opportunity and grab it. … At some point you have to be creative. If you don’t have the tools you can’t get it done.”
Denise Smith Amos: 904-359-4083