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Charleston area teachers ask for help buying school supplies on social media

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Aisha Pinckney.jpg

Aisha Pinckney goes through school supplies at Moultrie Middle School in Mount Pleasant on Wednesday, August 14, 2019. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Charleston County math teacher Zoë Roff figures that she usually spends up to $500 on school supplies throughout the course of a year.

She's not alone.

A federal Department of Education study released last year found that teachers nationally spend on average around $479 each year of their own money on school supplies for their students. 

It's a long-standing reality, a contentious talking point that occasionally surfaces in the larger debate over whether public school teachers are paid enough.

While that debate remains unresolved, Roff and other Charleston area teachers have turned to social media for interim help. 

Three weeks before school started, Roff, who is starting her third year of teaching at Northwoods Middle School, created a Facebook group called Helping Charleston Area Teachers

She designed the group to help Lowcountry teachers get school supplies, such as tissues, paper towels and cleaning wipes, that they otherwise wouldn't have in their classrooms unless they dipped into their own pockets. 

To start, the group had about 30 members, consisting mainly of Roff's colleagues and friends. Two weeks later it had about 2,000 members. Today, it has grown to more than 3,200 members representing more than 175 schools. 

The viral #clearthelist campaign took off on social media earlier this year, but that national movement was so large that Roff felt like her classroom list got lost in the shuffle. 

"I knew I must not be the only person who was feeling that way," Roff said. "I felt like we could be more meaningful about how how we approach it and be more vocal and more connected if we did something just a little different locally."

In the Facebook group, teachers can share their Amazon wish list link in the comments of a post pinned at the top of the page. As of Thursday afternoon, it had almost 550 comments.

Roff also asked members to find a photo of their school logo in the page's photo album and post their link in the photo's comments, as well. This way, they can share the individual photo to their own pages.

She encouraged teachers to share information about themselves when posting their wish list link. 

"One of the things I've tried to make really clear to teachers is that you can't just post a link to your Amazon list and then hope that someone's going to buy everything that you need for your classroom," she said.

While Roff is unsure how many supplies have been purchased through the group, she estimates it is beyond $2,000.

"Without question, hundreds of classrooms have been touched, for sure," Roff said.

Anjene Davis, the auditorium manager at Burke High School, was one of the educators impacted by the group. 

"The conversation surrounding education never really touched on the fact that a lot of us spend a lot of our own money to do what we do," Davis said. 

Davis posted his wish list in the Facebook group, which included things like specialty microphones, connection cords and a digital soundboard router.

Less than three hours later someone had already purchased a few items off it.

"I was truly blessed with a lot of my requests," Davis said. "Hopefully, this is something that is kind of a wake-up call to see that educational funding, even in its current state still remains inadequate as it relates to teachers." 

Whitney Quick is an administrator on the Facebook page and one of its benefactors.

Although she's no longer a teacher, she said she understands firsthand the financial burden teachers often face. After graduating from the College of Charleston in 2005, she taught in Berkeley County schools and made about $28,000 a year.

During her six years as a teacher, Quick always worked multiple jobs, such as tutoring homebound students, coaching soccer and working at a local fireworks stand.

Today, Quick works as a technical writer for a defense contractor, but she remembers what back-to-school season is like. So she picked about two dozen teachers from the Facebook page and purchased one or two items off of each of their lists. She estimated that she spent between $500 and $1,000. 

"I knew how important it is for some of these teachers, especially in lower socioeconomic areas and special education classrooms and things like that, how hard it is for them to get what they need," Quick said. 

Roff doesn't blame schools or school districts for not providing all the supplies teachers need. 

"My school definitely provides me with supplies. It just doesn't cover everything," Roff said. "There's no way to supply enough paper for every single kid for all the things that have to be done in the year. There's no way to supply enough tissues for every kid that blew their nose."

She hopes the page continues to grow as the school year progresses. "Even though school has started, it doesn't mean that the need goes away," she said. 

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Jenna Schiferl was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina. She has worked as an education reporter for The Post and Courier since 2019.

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