Pittsfield teachers get a helping hand with supplies

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PITTSFIELD — Each year, teachers typically spend $500 to $600 for classroom items, from glue sticks and books to tissues and cleaning supplies.

That's according to a survey of teachers by Scholastic and the nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org.

But Carly Daniels, a fifth-grade teacher at Morningside Community School, said those figures are conservative.

"We spend at minimum that much, and usually above and beyond," she said.

"I built that library," Daniels said, pointing to a 5-foot-tall bookcase showcasing several dozen popular titles. "Many kids come to me saying they don't like to read. It's really important as a reading teacher to instill a love of reading. It's such a huge step to everything else we do."

On Tuesday, they got a little help from the community to mark Teacher Appreciation Day, celebrated nationwide on the Tuesday of the first full week of May.

Educators at three city schools got a surprise visit from employees of Berkshire Bank and Berkshire United Way.

For the past month the two lead sponsors reached into their own pockets — and to other local businesses — to collect school supplies, books, games and more to benefit Conte Community, Crosby Elementary and Morningside community schools.

These schools were selected as beneficiaries of a total of 75 classroom supply kits because they're all classified as Title I schools in need of support to meet the needs of struggling students.

"Having enough materials for learning is always on our teachers' minds," said Kristen Palatt, assistant principal of teaching and learning.

Earlier this year, Berkshire Bank, which is the official community partner for Morningside, also gave science teacher Sue Garcia a grant to outfit her classroom with furniture and materials to do science labs.

"It's been wonderful," said Principal Jenny Stokes.

When second-grade teacher Billie Jo Lamoureaux received her classroom kit, her face softened and her arms opened. As her students continued to explore the contents of the clear plastic storage bin, the teacher went down the line to hug every guest visitor.

"Thank you so much for thinking of us," she told the Berkshire Bank and United Way employees.

As belts are tightened around school budgets, things get cut, be it funding for supplies or even teachers. Subsequently, teachers have become accustomed to sending out lists of classroom necessities to parents prior to the start of the school year in hopes that families can supplement what school budgets cannot. But for some families, the purchase of a few binders and folders is still a big ask.

"Which is understandable," Daniels said. "A lot of our families are struggling too."

First-grade teacher Sandy Phillips said teachers are resourceful in trying to make sure no student goes without, and that they can get a lot of mileage out of classroom posters and other printed materials.

"I make a lot of things at home," she said. "I bought a laminator so I could laminate things so they'd last longer."

Berkshire United Way Director of Community Impact Karen Vogel said the classroom kit initiative continues the school support work the organization does with Berkshire Bank. Last year, it coordinated the distribution of 500 backpacks filled with supplies for incoming kindergartners across the county.

The project was reined in this year to focus on schools with higher needs, serving students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 5. Pittsfield Public Schools Curriculum Director Judy Rush was enlisted to survey teachers about their greatest classroom needs: folders, dominoes, games, cards, stickers, Kleenex and hand sanitizer.

There was also a special request that each classroom receive an age-appropriate book about self-awareness. Grades with younger students received a copy of "Red: A Crayon's Story" by Michael Hall, while classrooms with older students received a copy of "Who Are You?: The Kid's Guide to Gender Identity" by Brook Pessin-Whedbee and Naomi Bardoff. Both books have received parental and educator acclaim for addressing themes of diversity and inclusion.

Vogel said the total cost of the project came to about $4,000, which was defrayed by sponsors Molari, Interprint and New England Newspapers Inc., which owns The Berkshire Eagle.

After delivering the totes to each classroom, Berkshire Bank employees returned to some classrooms to volunteer some time reading with the students.

"Just to see how excited they are is so nice," said volunteer Stacey Phillips, who read to her own mother's first-grade class.

Michelle Gage also got to deliver a kit to her own daughter's pre-K class.

"It's so important," she said. "By the end of the year, teachers are going to run out of things."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6239.


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