Seattle parents work toward educational equity through school supplies

SEATTLE — The countdown is on for schools reopening, with many school districts already back in class. Some parent-teacher associations are working to make sure kids are able to start off strong and on equal footing as much as possible. One way they’re working to make that happen is through school supplies.

Parents said when it comes to back-to-school shopping, the bills per kid add up fast.

“Oh my God, at least $100 just to start with,” said Amber, mom of a John Muir student.

“School supplies are expensive,” said Catherine Seaver, who is part of the John Muir PTA.

About half a dozen schools in Seattle’s south end currently have PTA or PTSA programs helping out. At John Muir, the PTA collects money from families on a sliding scale and then buys school supplies for all the students. Teachers make a list at the end of each school year, and the PTA orders all the binders, markers, notebooks — you name it — before school starts in fall.

“Buying it in bulk saves us a dramatic amount. So instead of $75 per kid, it’s about $30,” Seaver said.

On Thursday, teachers at John Muir picked up supplies for their students, which will be waiting for them in their classrooms.

“Any help, helps,” Amber said.

“It’s really nice to not have to think about it at all,” Karen Woodburn, who just joined the John Muir PTA, said.

Beyond saving some money for families, the program is about equity.

John Muir is a Title 1 school, which means there is a high enrollment of low-income students. According to Seattle Public Schools data, last year, 63% of the 369 students at John Muir were in the low-income category. The school is also diverse; 84% are students of color and 16% are white.

Kate Schueler teaches reading at John Muir.

“It is a huge equity piece. It takes a huge, huge burden off of families,” Schueler said. “It also takes away from the issue of, you know, one student has the eight pack of crayons and one student has the 64 pack of crayons. So kids come in feeling more confident and less of having to navigate that social piece,” she said.

Parents said that the competition part of it matters more than you might think.

“That’s a big deal, you know. And then certain things like movies — Space Jam just came out, Spider-Man — they want those,” said Arlene Grayer, a grandparent.

But when the kids have the same, quality-checked supplies, the focus can be on learning.

“The kids that benefit from it the most are the ones that don’t have anything, so I’m all for it,” Amber said.

The parents behind the effort also acknowledge that not all schools have PTAs with parents who have enough resources to launch programs like this.

“Because just having the time to fundraise — all of it is based on class and race,” Seaver said. “It’s a messed up system. It’s valuable work, but it totally requires privilege in every way,” she said.

Seaver said the main mission of the PTA is to advocate for kids furthest from educational justice.

“And this is such a simple way to show up for our families,” she said.