Brian Gatens offers tips on easing the financial burden on parents
Tips for School & District Administrators

Easing the Economy's Burden on Students' Families

By Brian Gatens

As teachers or school administrators, we don’t have to look very far to see the effects of the Great Recession on our schools and, more importantly, our students. As a result, along with our other obligations, we have a moral imperative to consider the impact of offering academic opportunities that may prove difficult for families with limited financial means.

A few points to bear in mind:

Be reasonable with school supplies lists

Brian Gatens offers tips on easing the financial burden on parentsSome schools facing budget cuts have adapted by passing along the costs of school supplies to their families, asking them to pay for items including tissues, chalk or even cleaning supplies. An informative exercise is to add up all the costs of school supplies. Don’t be surprised if the average family is asked to bear costs that run into the hundreds of dollars.

Families should not be expected to pay for items of convenience or those that should be absorbed by the school. Bottom line: Only items necessary to your students’ learning belong on the class supplies list you send home.

Note all the costs of class trips

When planning class trips, be sure to take into account the entire cost of the trip for the students and their families, including the cost of substitutes, buses and entrance fees. If the costs are prohibitively high, find a different place to visit.

One way to subsidize the cost is to run bake sales or other fundraisers, but be sure to remember that this only helps to offset some of the cost, and it’s not uncommon for the families to still bear the cost of the fundraisers.

Remember that class projects cost parents twice

In the classroom, be sure to think of the cost of activities you oblige the children undertake. It’s easy to overlook the reality that an extensive project incurs two costs. The first is in time for the parents. Due to the economy, families are more likely to have two working parents. This will affect parents’ ability to set aside large amounts of time to work on detailed and intensive projects. It’s not fair to ask parents to begin a “second shift” when they get home from work.

The second cost is in actual dollars. Large projects, especially those that are extremely creative, can require parents to purchase many of the required items.

Help limit gift expenses

It’s not uncommon for children to purchase their teachers a gift around the holiday season. It’s a nice way for the children to learn the habit of saying thank you, and it’s a nice way for a family to show their appreciation. If a family has multiple children who have multiple teachers, this can prove rather costly.

Rather than place a family in the awkward position of having to find the necessary money to buy you a gift, let the parents know that you would like a small note or handmade item from the children. This will provide more relief than you could imagine.

Find support programs

A great way to find money to offset student costs is to participate in the school support programs funded by many national retailers. Target, for example, enables parents to sign up for a Rewards Program, where a small percentage of purchases are donated directly back to the schools. This is a fiscally responsible way to raise funds that can offset student costs for trips and other activities.

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is the Superintendent of Schools for the Emerson Public School District Emerson, New Jersey. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal, superintendent/principal, and now superintendent.

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