By Maya Pottiger | Word In Black

(WIB) – This time of year, social media feeds are flooded with teachers posting lists of supplies they need for their classrooms and asking for the public’s help to ensure students have everything from art supplies and calculators to books and reading bean bags. #ClearTheList, as the hashtag goes, along with social media posts to fund their DonorsChoose projects. 

Like with medical bills, these back-to-school campaigns are another form of crowdsourcing in American society. Teachers, who are already underpaid, take to crowdsourcing to ensure they’re providing students the best and most effective educational experience they can. They inevitably front many out-of-pocket expenses throughout the year — the average rising to $750 per year in 2021 — so these summer wishlists help them get started.

In fact, it’s such a commonplace thing in our society now that Abbott Elementary — the blockbuster ABC show about teachers at an underfunded school in Philadelphia — did a whole episode about it.https://www.instagram.com/p/CY1kyGmORld/embed/?cr=1&v=12

After a few turbulent years of virtual and hybrid classes, schools are in-person again for the 2022-2023 school year, and teachers’ classroom needs have changed. After returning to the classroom in 2021, Richmond-area elementary school teacher Demetria Richardson realized some students hadn’t picked up pencils the entire time they were away.

“When we came back into the classroom 21/22, the needs were very different because our students had that year-and-a-half gap where they were not in school,” Richardson says. “Even though we did do virtual learning, it wasn’t everything that our students needed.”

Who’s Helping Teachers?

DonorsChoose, an organization that gives teachers a platform to post their classroom needs for anyone to find and fund, has seen an uptick in teachers, schools, and districts using the space since the pandemic. Launched in early 2000, it now has over 700,000 teachers in its database, and four out of five public schools across the country have had a teacher make a request through DonorsChoose, says Kristina “Steen” Joye Lyles, the vice president of Equity & Impact. Plus, six states have partnered with DonorsChoose to make sure their teachers get what they need.

I found some more gifts from my @Amazon wishlist & @DonorsChoose project waiting for me when I went to school today!! The generosity of strangers, fellow teachers & family is so appreciated❤️ Thank you for helping me prepare supply starter kits for my Ss & fight germs! pic.twitter.com/vsF9pYLsgC— Gayle D. Herrington (@GayleHerrington) July 25, 2022

In fact, Joye Lyles says she’s seen trends in people rallying around teachers and their needs — especially for teachers of color. There’s even a page called #blacklistcleared that specifically aggregates Black educators’ projects that need funding.

“We’re seeing on our site additional support for teachers of color, their classroom projects, additional support for classrooms that are equity focused,” Joye Lyles says. “Folks are really thinking about how you rally around getting more resources into classrooms this year.”

Classroom Basics and Flexible Seating Saw Increased Requests

So what are teachers requesting as they head back to the classroom this fall? 

DonorsChoose works with schools and districts nationwide, classifying them as “equity focus” and “non-equity focus.” It defines equity focus schools as those with at least 50% of the student body being Black, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, or multiracial, and at least 50% of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch.

In both equity-focus and non-equity focus schools, the early grades make up most of the DonorsChoose requests, regardless of whether the schools are classified as suburban or urban.

However, there was a 47% increase in requests from equity focus schools in 2021/2022 compared to the previous school year, and a 38% increase in requests from non-equity focus schools.

In the non-equity focus schools, computers and tablets and flexible seating have been among the top five requested items going back to the 2018/2019 school year. For both school classifications, books, educational kits, and instructional technology — things like printers, computer accessories, and cameras — were the top three requested items in both the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 school years.

At equity focus schools, computers and tablets were among the top four most requested items for three of the last four school years. Interestingly, in 2021/2022, computers and tablets fell very far down the list, and classroom basics and flexible seating rose to the top five.

This is because, when schools shut down, government funding allowed schools to purchase devices for their students to be able to learn from home, Richardson says. So, while computers and tablets were high in demand prior to the pandemic, they’re now “one-to-one” in most school systems. 

In terms of classroom basics, Richardson says some of the need is replenishing supplies that were sent home with students for virtual learning, like rulers and whiteboards. And, at least in her school, students aren’t allowed to share supplies, like pencils and scissors, meaning there needs to be more available. But the biggest need is headphones, which were supplied to students to help with learning from home.

But, now more than ever, teachers are looking for opportunities to get their students back in the classroom, Lyles says. And it’s critical for teachers to create an environment that students want to be in.

New Classroom Environments

Classrooms are changing to better accommodate students’ needs and be more inclusive learning environments. This is where flexible seating comes in, taking the form of wobble stools, rugs with beanbag chairs, and lap desks. These allow students to more freely move around the classroom whether it’s due to social/emotional trauma or hyperactivity.

Especially after years of virtual schooling, it can be tough for students going back into an environment and dealing with the wiggles and wanting to move around in different ways. So the increase in flexible seating, Lyles says, could be evidence of teachers being mindful of their students.

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.