Tools for the future
A store will provide free school supplies for teachers and students.
Many public school teachers spend their own money to buy school supplies for students. Nancy Bolzle is the director of the nonprofit The Pencil Box, where teachers can obtain free supplies.
Imagine being a nurse who has to purchase his own exam gloves or a chef who is expected to provide her own pots and pans. This is the reality for many educators.
Public school teachers spent $1.6 billion of their own money on classroom supplies for the 2012-2013 school year, according to a study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association. Ten percent of teachers reported spending more than $1,000 out of pocket.
A solution has been percolating in Tulsan Nancy Bolzle’s mind for more than 10 years. The Pencil Box — a nonprofit organization and free store for teachers — will soon open at 916 W. 23rd St.
Tulsa Public Schools with at least 70 percent of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program will be eligible to participate.
Kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers will be invited to shop three times a semester, or six times a year, in exchange for a nominal participation fee that is still to be determined.
“It’s not just about pencils, pens and paper,” says Bolzle, president and executive director of The Pencil Box. “It really is about the whole person, and it really is about tools for the future. It’s about giving these kids a sense of well-being and hope for tomorrow.”
Helping her is Sue Harbison, who began her career as a bilingual teacher on the Texas-Mexico border. Now retired, she taught for 35 years, including 28 years in Tulsa, and will help teachers navigate The Pencil Box.
“The Pencil Box gives teachers an opportunity to not spend their hard-earned money on supplies that they want to use in the classroom to enhance the learning environment,” says Harbison, who spent $500-$600 per year on supplies.
“We want our children to have the very best learning opportunities and environment that they can have. When teachers have more resources, that just enhances the learning environment.”
The Pencil Box will provide the items most-requested by teachers, including books, crayons, markers, notebooks, paper and pencils and repurposed items such as magnets, magazines and small furniture. Community donations will keep the shelves stocked.
“The Pencil Box is really going to provide for a desperate need in the community,” says Rhonda Montee, a Pencil Box volunteer and retired teacher who taught in Owasso Public Schools for 29 years.
Montee often had children join her class in the middle of the year because they moved or their parents separated. Many came to school with no backpack or supplies, and she pulled extra crayons and pencils from a stash of supplies she purchased with her own money.
“It’s all about self-esteem when the kids walk in the door,” she says. “You just want them to feel like they’re welcome, and you want them to feel like they belong and they’re the same as everyone else.”