Campaign helps meet classroom needs

Local teachers received supplies collected by Tucson Medical Center employees during the Tucson Supplies Teachers drive last year. The 2012 campaign, which begins tomorrow, seeks to collect $125,000 in school supplies.

COURTESY OF TUCSON VALUES TEACHERS

School is about to start and kids and parents aren't the only ones shopping for supplies. According to the nonprofit Tucson Values Teachers, teachers throughout the city will spend an average of $500 each of their own money for pencils, pens, notebooks, tissues and other classroom necessities.

Considering the starting salary for a new teacher in Tucson is about $30,000, that outlay is a hefty burden, said Jacquelyn Jackson, executive director of Tucson Values Teachers.

"These are people with kids of their own who are trying to support families, and it's really hard for them … 50 percent of our brand-new teachers are gone in the first five years, which is a huge cost to our children and to school districts," Jackson said. "Tucson Values Teachers tries to figure out how to keep teachers in there. We want to let them know that we've got their backs."

Jackson is working with local businesses and the public to alleviate some of that financial burden through projects such as the fourth annual Tucson Supplies Teachers campaign. School supplies can be donated Monday through Aug. 13 at 51 Walgreens stores throughout Tucson and Southern Arizona.

Goal is $125,000

Last year, the two-week campaign collected $102,000 worth of supplies that were donated to more than 10,000 teachers in public, private and charter schools throughout Tucson and Southern Arizona.

Donations were kicked off for the past two years with a $25,000 grant from the Tucson-based Community Finance Corporation. Walgreens matches the grant and will do so again this year. The 2012 goal is $125,000, according to Bruce Orach, Walgreens community leader.

The Tucson native, who witnessed the needs of teachers when his own children went through the Flowing Wells School District, has been involved with the drive since its inception.

"When the supplies are delivered to the classrooms, you see this overwhelming sense of relief that someone out there is actually doing something on their behalf to help them get their jobs done," Orach said of the teachers who receive the donations.

Since supplies can easily run between $500 and $1,000 per year for each elementary student, the donations are vital to adequately outfit classrooms for the education and well-being of students, said Tom Drexel, co-director of the Presidio Schools. The local charter school serves kindergarten through 12th grade and is the distribution point for supplies to local charter schools after the campaign.

Critical to student success

Supplies include not only standard school supplies, but arts and crafts materials, cleaning products and other household items such as Ziploc bags, paper towels, paper plates and plastic cups.

"This is the way I explain it to legislators: Look at the budget you need for daily living and multiply that by 20. That is the cost reflected in a teacher's classroom, and it is a daunting number," Drexel said.

"When you start trying to cut corners, you cut the children's ability to learn, and that is why Tucson Values Teachers is so invaluable and so effective. It is critical to making sure our children receive the best education possible."

In addition to the annual supplies drive, Tucson Values Teachers offers a range of other opportunities and support - including discounts on goods and services - for local teachers through partnerships with more than 70 local businesses and the University of Arizona.

A signature project in conjunction with the UA College of Education offers an internship program known as MASTER-IP that provides summer work for teachers through more than 20 local businesses such as Raytheon, Tucson Electric Power Co., Vante and Ventana Medical Systems.

The internships boost participating teachers' salaries by $6,000 to $15,000 and provide hands-on experience that coordinates with the curriculum they are studying. Another UA partnership, Teacher Day at UA, highlights professional-development opportunities for local teachers and spotlights opportunities for local classrooms.

Keeping quality teachers

Ultimately, Jackson said, Tucson Values Teachers seeks to increase economic and educational investment to attract and retain the best teachers and to raise awareness about the critical roles teachers play in economic and civic success.

Tucson Values Teachers proves the benefits of innovative collaboration between businesses, nonprofits and the community, she said.

"Children are the future of our cities and country, and I think it is important that when they get to school, their teachers can concentrate on teaching instead of worrying about where the supplies are coming from," Orach said. "In the past three years the economy has been pretty tough, but the community still finds it in their hearts to step up for teachers and help out."

How to help

• What: Donate to "Tucson Supplies Teachers," a school-supplies drive to benefit Southern Arizona teachers

• When: Monday through Aug. 13

• Where: Walgreens in Tucson and Southern Arizona

• The details: Donations of pencils, notebooks, crayons, markers, glue sticks, hand sanitizer, paper towels and other school and art supplies can be made at more than 50 Walgreens stores throughout Southern Arizona. Businesses also may collect from employees or customers and drop supplies at Walgreens locations.

• Where to donate: For a list of participating Walgreens or for more information, go to tucsonvaluesteachers.org/view.php?pg=30 or call 327-7619. Donations made online during the drive will go directly toward buying school supplies for teachers.

• Contributions can be mailed to Tucson Values Teachers, 3497 N. Campbell, Suite 703, Tucson AZ 85719

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net