Teachers fight inflation by buying back-to-school supplies

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According to the National Retail Federation, spending on back-to-school supplies has risen 40% as prices soar due to inflation.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The first day of school is fast approaching, and as parents and students prepare for the school year, so do teachers.

Hampton Roads teachers are already starting to return to classrooms. Soon the halls of Denbigh High School in Newport News will be busier.

Classes start on August 29, a week earlier than usual. This means Donna Phelps-Thomas is already gearing up for that first ring.

“I can’t wait to really be with my students,” Phelps-Thomas said.

“Mrs. PT,” as the students call her, is a science teacher and one of many returning school division educators.

Phelps-Thomas retired from the Air Force after 20 years before becoming a teacher in 2016. Her passion for science dates back to her high school days in California, where she enrolled in a program to encourage students to pursue a career in STEM.

She also decorates her classroom and collects school supplies, including 130 composition notebooks for her students.

“It’s in addition to pencils and paper, other supplies that we need in the classroom,” she said.

But this year, she noticed school supplies were a little heavier on the wallet than in previous years.

According to the National Retail Federation, spending on back-to-school supplies has increased by 40%.

Families are not the only ones buying supplies, teachers also often pay out of pocket.

Pamela Donaldson-Johnson teaches English at Bayside Sixth Grade Campus in Virginia Beach and is entering her 20th year as an educator.

“They mainly buy their supplies for the kids who really can’t afford them, so it becomes a personal expense for the teachers,” she said.

Efforts are being made to help with the load, including a school supply drive in Hampton over the weekend. School divisions can also help purchase materials.

“I’m just ready for something new in 2022,” Donaldson-Johnson said.

Donaldson-Johnson said elementary school teachers are “knee-deep” in the classroom setting and planning lessons and activities. This includes printing, laminating and cutting materials.

Donaldson-Johnson and Phelps-Thomas both say they are excited to see all the new faces and to teach in an environment without pandemic restrictions.

“We don’t have any particular protocol to follow,” said Phelps-Thomas, who said he had to adjust some science activities last year.

“Students and staff are still recovering from the pandemic in a variety of ways,” Donaldson-Johnson said.

Donaldson-Johnson said some are still struggling with the trauma of the pandemic and lack of social skills, and she said many parents are still emotionally and financially strapped.

She said teachers have learned their own lessons during the pandemic.

“I hope, however, that we can move forward and do things differently than what we have done in the past,” she said.

Both teachers said they are very excited to meet the new faces in the next school year, and there is still a lot of work to do!

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