Resourcefulness a key teaching skill

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Talmadge Middle School teacher Kelly Cutsforth is not averse to "dragging" her children with her when she shops at Staples or Office Depot for supplies she might nee

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Talmadge Middle School teacher Kelly Cutsforth is not averse to "dragging" her children with her when she shops at Staples or Office Depot for supplies she might need for her language arts and student transition program classes.

She can maximize per-person discounts during sales that way, she said.

Ben Gorman, who teaches English at Central High School, said one of the first things he does when starting a new lesson is scour the Internet for free material other teachers make available.

Michele Sparks' first-grade classroom at Monmouth Elementary School is stocked with hundreds of books she has picked up at garage sales or inherits from retiring teachers for recreational student reading.

"I've become kind of a hoarder of books," she said. "But it's important at this stage for first-graders."

Knowledge, rapport with students, adaptability -- they're all trademarks of any good teacher. The ability to scavenge doesn't hurt, either.

Falling state appropriations have led to shrinking materials budgets and delays in new curriculum adoption that force teachers to compensate with supplementary instruction in the Central School District.

As such, teachers must be creative when it comes to financing their classrooms. And the tricks are many.

Collecting cereal box tops. Seeking out teacher discounts at office supply stores. Grant writing. Secondhand stores for art supplies. Using they're own children's hand-me-downs.

"One of our lunch ladies saves me the cardboard that comes between juice boxes," said Cutsforth, who's taught for 24 years. "If it's not wet, I can use that instead of tagboard."

Central's overall instruction materials budget is about $100,000 -- half of what it was just four years ago.

That amount is divided among each of the district's six schools and allocated by the building principals. The money goes toward common supplies, such as printer paper, Post-its and staples.

And all classroom teachers are given an "allowance" -- $200 at the elementary schools and $100 at the middle and high schools -- for items, lessons or activities considered outside of core instruction.

A box of Kleenex or colored paper stock? That comes from a teacher's personal budget. When the money is gone, they must dip into their own pockets or find other resources for classroom funding.

And it happens with frequency, Cutsforth said, noting she knows many who bump up against the $250 teachers may deduct on their personal income taxes.

Sparks said she probably spent at least $1,000 a year of her own money during the early portion of her career.

"That was before I had kids at home," she said.

Supplementary instruction and materials are critical as teaching methods evolve and new textbook purchases are delayed because of budget reductions.

Teachers must work around that problem. Gorman said the Smartboards -- interactive whiteboards -- that Central High received as part of its 2008 reconstruction project have been key for him. He can modify and display lessons found online. And there's no need for photocopies.

"They've been a huge blessing," Gorman said. "We have access to material we would never have been able to afford if we relied on state money."

What the district might consider extra for a classroom, however, can be surprisingly basic, particularly when it relates to hands-on learning, said Talmadge principal Perry LaBounty.

His and other schools lean heavily on civic organizations or parent-teacher clubs for art, science and music classes, LaBounty said.

"Our Cougar Club has a fundraiser every year to pay for frogs for dissection for our science classes," LaBounty said. "Without the club, that learning experience wouldn't happen for students."

Grant writing has become a critical survival skill. Nearly 30 teachers applied this year for enrichment grants through the Monmouth-Independence Community Foundation. Competition for those awards has become more fierce, said Barb Welander, Ash Creek Elementary School principal.

And the money doled out, meanwhile, seems to be spent more on practical items such as book replacements instead of field trips or special activities, Welander said.

"It's basic classroom necessities," she said. "I see things getting tighter in the future, not just for us, but all families."

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