Wearing a stuffed backpack almost as tall as she is, five-year-old Analeigh Vonau walked to Queens Park Elementary School with her mom Tina and three-year-old sister Ashleigh on the first day of class this week.
Inside the pack were the school supplies students are required to bring for the year, however Tina questioned not only the amount, but the types of items.
“Kleenex and Ziploc bags? I can understand the things like the backpack and maybe the pencils, but when it comes to having to buy six glue sticks and eight erasers and computer paper and 24 pencils it’s a bit much,” said Vonau. “I would say it cost me over a $100 just for the school supplies, most of the other parents shopped at Staples and their bills were not nearly as high as mine but everyone I talked to thinks the school list is absolutely ridiculous.
“I’m a single mom, I work part time and don’t get any assistance but we’re getting by all right but had I been in the position of some of the other people, I don’t know what I would have done. My girls probably wouldn’t go to school with all the school supplies but it’s not fair for that child to enter the classroom and not have those things.”
In Penticton, like some other districts, students are issued lists, specific to their school and grades. Most of the lists contain about 20 items, with a description, sometimes including a brand name and quantity of what is needed.
On the district’s website under each school is the list of supplies necessary indicating which items should be labelled with the child’s name and which ones should not. Those without names are for general use for students.
School district Superintendent Wendy Hyer said the practice wasn’t introduced to help deal with financial inequality among students, although she did mention Penticton is among the top-10 most impoverished school districts in B.C.
Lack of financial resources, she added, is addressed through a partnership with Staples and Telus, enabling disadvantaged students to go to school with the tools they need.
“Every start of the school year Telus and Staples have program for kids who can’t necessarily get everything that’s on the supply list,” Hyer said, adding that each school’s principal has a good understanding of which families are in need. “It’s for students from families that have financial needs. The family would consult with the principal, and it’s the principal’s role to decide who has financial need and who doesn’t.”
In some instances, Hyer said poor spending decisions made by parents have possibly contributed to a student’s inability to possess school supplies, but that schools in the district are able to adequately provide for students who are short on supplies, regardless of the circumstances.
It’s a different story at Uplands Elementary where instead of a list, parents are charged between $55 and $65, depending on grade. Through bulk ordering the supplies, they report an average saving per student of $20
In the school’s words: “come September your kids will go to their new classroom and everything on the list is there, organized and ready for their teacher to distribute! No having to lug heavy bags of supplies into the school!”
“I think that is a much better way because as a family at least you would know what you’re budgeting for and you’re not hit with this great big bill at the beginning of the school year,” said Vonau. “There are so many single parents out there and so many low income families in this town and I’m the first person who’s willing to help somebody that needs it but there comes a time.”
She feels a blanket policy for the entire district would be more fair.
While principals from different schools may base their decisions on different criteria, Mary Arbeau, a Penticton mother of four, believes it’s the best way. Although a blanket criteria could do away with arbitrary decisions, she felt the individual principals would likely know the families personally.
“Everything has to be the same, so I don’t find (pooling classroom supplies) an issue,” said Arbeau. “I don’t hate back-to-school shopping but I don’t love it.”
Hyer said it would take a boost in educational funding from the province before any supply costs could be reduced.
-With files from Dan Walton/Western News