When 28-year-old Kelly Cowgill walked into the resource room at the Beaverton Education Association (BEA) offices in Oregon last week, she gasped.
There, dozens of tables were arranged throughout the room, overflowing with supplies: picture books and scissors, boom-boxes and glue sticks, colored pencils and board banners. From the ceiling hung signs, explaining what participants might find at each table: “Science,” read one. “Bulletin Board Supplies,” read another.
“I was so surprised when I walked in,” said Cowgill. “I just could not believe the generosity.”
The event was BEA’s New Teacher Giveaway, an opportunity to engage new members, help them meet each other and get their room set up for the coming school year.
“Our local President and board tasked us to come up with ideas to engage newer members,” said Kara Ferris, a Social Studies teacher and BEA’s treasurer, “We just brainstormed and thought about what we could provide that the district could not.”
Ferris worked closely with a small team—including board members Erin Gettling and Ellen Knowles, and BEA President Karen Hoffman and Vice President Sara Schmitt—to collect thousands of donations from experienced and retiring teachers. Hoffman also applied for and received a grant from the National Education Association.
“We worked hard this year to make sure we covered all the bases,” said Gettling, a second grade teacher. New educators received tote bags at the District’s new teacher orientation. They were then invited to the Giveaway, which worked like a free store—members loaded up boxes and boxes of supplies.
“The goal was to help new educators get over that first hump,” said Gettling, an 8-year veteran. “My first month as a teacher was a blur. I just remember getting through the day, and then realizing I would have to get up and do it all over again the following day.”
“Oh, you definitely get the sense of being thrown in and having to hit the ground running,” added Ferris. “It hits you that you’re responsible for a classroom full of children.”
And in Oregon, where a typical class size hovers in the high 30s/low 40s, those classes are getting larger and larger. Elizabeth Lynch, a first year music teacher who also attended the Giveaway, splits her time between two schools and 1200 students.
“Our newest members are under a tremendous amount of stress. They’re the ones who really feel the pinch of large classes and shrinking resources,” said Ferris.
According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, K-12 educators spent $1.6 billion out-of-pocket on school supplies and other tools in 2012/13.
“When you’re stretched so thin, and you don’t have the resources you need, it’s much more difficult to integrate into the school community,” said Gettling. “We wanted to provide some relief.”
Cowgill, who will meet her third grade class the week of Labor Day, feels prepared for the challenge, and is excited about meeting her students. “The twinkle lights are up, I took home that lovely globe from the giveaway, as well as books and puzzles. Oh, and mancala boards and interactive science experiments! I feel ready, I’m confident,” she said. “Oh yeah.”