The Last Pencil: Having Supplies for our Students

Written by United Way

January 14, 2019

“Mrs. Thompson!” shouted Louis in a very disgruntled tone. His little arms crossed, barely able to see over my desk.

“What’s wrong? Why the long face?” I said with a smile.

He took a deep breath, “My pencil broke and it’s the last one I have, and I’m trying to finish my worksheet,” pointing back to his desk.

“Okay, okay,” I mumbled back, “We can certainly fix this problem.”

I opened the bottom drawer of my desk, where I kept some of my extra school supplies, like pencils, pens and notebooks. In August, this desk was full to the brim, but, by time December hit, it was nearly bare.

My eyes kept searching…a few dry erase markers, some loose-leaf paper… but where are my pencils?

“Ah-ha!” I yelled. My eyes finally finding my blue pencil box. I opened it up and only found disappointment… it was empty.

“Do you have one?” Louis energetically said, ready to get back to his classroom work.

“Well, buddy, I think I may have to give you one of mine. But, you have to promise you’ll return it.”

“I promise Mrs. Thompson,” he said with a big smile.

This was a common-theme at my elementary. Kids showing up to school every year with nothing but a few markers, or a grocery bag of three or four notebooks.

Nearly half of my class came to school unprepared and it absolutely broke my heart. It’s not their fault—families in this neighborhood really struggle to make ends meet. Barely able to make the rent or put food on the table. I understood why backpacks and colored pencils were pushed to the bottom of the “financial checklist.”

So, each year, I’d head out to the store a few weeks before school started and stocked up. Everything a student could need, I had a little bit of each.

This school year, I packed my desk full of supplies. To be honest, I was a little disappointed… I felt like $300 worth of supplies shouldn’t fit in five drawers, but, it’s the all the extra money I had for my students.

“I just want my students to be successful. I want them to simply have the things they need.”

Usually, I had enough supplies to last me the entire year. But, in Louis’ case, it looked like I’d fallen short. There was little to share with my students when school started back up after the holidays. And, I really didn’t have the extra cash to go out and spend another $300 on supplies.

Concerned and unsure what to do, I brought up my depleted “supply bank” to the other first grade teachers over lunch. That’s when one of my colleagues suggested going to The Salvation Army.

“They usually have extra supplies for teachers,” he said. “All you have to do is apply and check what you need. It’s an open resource for educators to meet their needs and not have to spend a good chunk of their paycheck on supplies.”

Immediately after school I swung by their office, inquiring further about this program and the application. Honestly, the resource sounded a little too good to be true.

Yet sure enough, after filling out a form, I was handed back a few bags of items I desperately needed. It was such a relief knowing that when all my students returned from break, we’d have new markers and pencils to open up and handout.

A few weeks I return back to my classroom after the holidays. As the students entered back through the door to their seats I spied Louis out of the corner of my eye. Slowly I reach into my desk and pulled out a yellow “No. 2” pencil. Looking back at Louis I thought to myself: A fresh pencil, for a new year and filling out numerous worksheets to come.


*This blog post is based on a true story / success narrative. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s successes and struggles.

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