Back to School

Although the dizzying heat in much of the country reminds us that we are in midst of summer, back-to-school sales are in full swing at retailers all around the Bay Area.  This year, my work place partnered again with Family Giving Tree to collect school supplies for disadvantaged kids.  A large poster was put up in the break room, from which employees can pull off a tag representing a backpack to be filled.  After procrastinating for a while, I decided to donate backpacks for two 2nd to 5th graders, one girl and one boy, and picked up the corresponding tags.

Even for elementary school, the shopping list printed on the back of the tags is quite long, although my big complaint is the complete lack of specificity:

  • Pencils and Pens (Of course…but how many of each?)
  • 3-Ring Binder 2″ (Seems big – plus none of the cute ones come in that size.)
  • Pencil Sharpener (Why don’t American kids use mechanical pencils?)
  • Dictionary/Book (I thought kids look up words on the Internet now. Besides, what does “book” mean? Like an educational book or a fun one?)
  • Washable Markers (My friend Ms. Sunshine says this is a hoax – they do not wash off.)
  • Folders with Pockets (I never did master the art of organizing with these.  How many am I supposed to get?)
  • Wide Rule Paper (Notebook? Loose? These instructions are vague!)
  • Highlighters (Do grade school kids really know how to use highlighters? Don’t they mean crayons?)
  • Index Cards (Really? Are they cramming in elementary school now?  The last time I saw index cards being used was by bleary-eyed law students studying for the Bar exam.)
  • Erasers (Are the pen-shaped ones too dainty for little kids to handle?)
  • Scissors (Why don’t these kids have scissors from last year?)
  • Colored Pencils (No crayons?)
  • Pencil Case (I was trying to buy one of those fancy Japanese ones with multiple compartments, but alas could only find the cheapo plastic/canvas bags.)
  • Glue Sticks (White glue and rubber cement are not okay, but glue sticks are?)
  • Tissue Box (Didn’t realize this was a “school supply.”)
  • Ruler (Again, shouldn’t the kids have these from the year before?)

After a trip to Target, I can’t believe how many items I ended up having to buy!  I laid them all out in the living room and surveyed my haul.

Two elementary school backpacks and all the contents!

The total bill was over $120 for two backpacks!  Granted, I didn’t want to buy only generic, monochromatic items for these underprivileged kids so ended up picking up a few fancier items such as a Hello Kitty notebook and a Cars backpack.  But I had never realized that putting a child through school came with such a hefty price tag!

This experience really made me appreciate all the top-of-the-line school supplies that my mom bought us back in the day (I remember when I first moved to the U.S., I was the only kid in school with those pencil cases that came with secret compartments that would pop open when the right buttons were pressed).  It also really reminds me that there are so many families out there that are struggling to just put food on the table and a roof over their heads – and school supplies are just one more worry adding to their daily grind.  It makes me happy to do my small part to make a family’s life just a little bit easier!