By Kim Underwood Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
AUGUST 13 – Before reaching into their own wallets to buy supplies for students who cannot afford them, teachers can drop by the Educator Warehouse starting this week and pick out free materials.
By some estimates, many teachers spend $300 to $500 a year of their own money each school year for materials for students and classrooms. At the Educator Warehouse at Diggs-Latham Elementary School, teachers can get free paper, pencils, crayons, books and much more.
“Students benefit because their teachers are provided with the proper tools so every student may participate in everyday learning,” said Karel Chandler, the president of the Forsyth Education Partnership, one of the sponsoring organizations. “Teachers benefit by having their students well-prepared for the classroom, and this is money that teachers do not have to spend out of their own pocket.”
The warehouse re-opens Aug. 16, when first-year teachers can visit from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. On Aug. 17 and Aug. 18, the warehouse will be open special hours – 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. – for other teachers. Regular hours will begin Aug. 21 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the Tuesdays and Thursdays that school is in session and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. the first and third Saturdays of the month.
This will be the second school year that the warehouse has been open in a pod behind Diggs-Latham. It is a joint project of the Forsyth Education Partnership, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Council of PTAs and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. It relies on volunteers and on donations from individuals, other nonprofit organizations and businesses.
The warehouse grew out of discussions among a group that included Aleta Bitting, the president of the PTA Council, and Joyce Kohfeldt, the owner of Innovative Educational Support Systems, an educational supply store in Kernersville. “I was on the committee and very excited about being able to put something back into the community,” Kohfeldt said.
As Kohfeldt sees it, the warehouse accomplishes several goals. First, it can provide basic supplies for students who might not otherwise have them. “We’re going to have the basics that kids need to be active, efficient learners,” she said.
It can provide new teachers with the materials they need to create an attractive classroom. And it gives individuals and businesses a way to, in effect, say, “thank you for what you do” to all teachers, and teachers the psychological boost that comes from that.
Items in the warehouse are assigned “points” that are based on what a new item would sell for in an office supply story or what a used item might sell for in a thrift store. Each quarter, teachers who visit the warehouse are given 25 “points” to spend. That translates to about $150 to $200 worth of materials. So teachers who make four trips to the warehouse during the course of the year might be able to pick up $800 worth of materials.
After the warehouse opened in August 2011, more than 600 teachers visited over the course of the year, picking up somewhere between $85,000 and $100,000 worth of new or gently used items. Fifty-six percent of those teachers taught in elementary schools, with 27 percent coming from middle schools and 16 percent from high schools.
The warehouse has four main rooms. One room contains books for classroom libraries. Another has bulletin-board and art supplies. The classroom supply room has pencils, erasers, glue, modeling clay, book bags and much more. In the resource room, teachers will find such things as windbags and test tubes to use in science experiments and lesson plans and other instructional supplies for math, science, social studies, language arts and English as a Second Language (ESL).
Other school systems in North Carolina, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Guilford County and Alamance-Burlington, and in other states have also started similar projects in recent years. “It is all over the country,” Chandler said.
The warehouse here has been operating with a core of volunteers that includes Chandler, Kohfeldt, Bitting, Sue Pester, the warehouse manager, and Nancy Sherrill, a past president of Forsyth Education Partners, and with volunteers from groups that include the Crosby Scholars and Habit for Humanity of Forsyth County. “We have some great volunteers,” Chandler said.
More volunteers are needed to organize and stock materials and to greet and assist customers, Chandler said. “It can be once a week; it can be once a month.”
A number of businesses in Forsyth County are setting up cardboard donation boxes where people can drop off items. People can also make arrangements to take donations directly to the warehouse. In some cases, warehouse volunteers can make arrangements to pick up donations.
The warehouse always needs such basic supplies as paper and pencils. Although the warehouse doesn’t distribute furniture in general, bookcases are welcome as are steel shelving suitable for displaying the warehouse’s stock. One thing the warehouse has plenty of at the moment is binders. “We have been very blessed with lots and lots of binders,” Chandler said.
To donate or volunteer, get in touch with Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 817-1673. The warehouse is incorporated as a nonprofit organization, and checks can be made out to Educator Warehouse and sent to Educator Warehouse, P.O. Box 141, Winston-Salem, NC 27102.
Only full-time teachers in public schools in Forsyth County are eligible to use the warehouse. Before shopping, teachers are asked to register online and to make an appointment at least one day in advance. To register, go to wsfcs.k12.nc.us/warehouse.