Back-to-school is back, and it has never been easier to give local students and teachers a boost as they head into their classrooms.

Whether you prefer to hit the stores or simply sit at your computer to make a donation, shoppers can find a school supply drive to suit their fancies.

And this year the Tucson Values Teachers and its seventh annual Tucson Supplies Teachers supply Drive have another option to simplify the process even further: All you need to do to funnel supplies to teachers is to donate a Walgreens gift card.

“This new approach solves a handful of problems for us. First of all, we wanted to make sure the supplies get directly into the hands of teachers and this helps teachers buy exactly what they need instead of just getting a small share of the supplies that have been donated. Kindergarten teachers and high school science teachers need very different things and this allows each of them to get exactly what they need when they need it,” said Katie Rogerson, interim executive director and director of marketing and outreach for Tucson Values Teachers, a regional initiative created to help teachers.

Additionally, Rogerson said that donations of Walgreens gift cards streamline the process of collecting, sorting and distributing supplies, which requires significant time, resources and funds.

Finally, Walgreens is part of a teacher discount card program that allows teachers to buy up to $100 worth of supplies for $50.

“If teachers capitalize on the all of discounts that Walgreens offers them, they can really stretch their dollars,” Rogerson said.

Stretching teachers’ paychecks is essential because Arizona teaching salaries are among the lowest in the nation, according to Rogerson. In spite of this, surveys conducted by Tucson Values Teachers show that Arizona teachers spend, on average, $500 of their own money per year on classroom supplies.

Tucson Values Teachers was developed with the intent of assisting with those costs while retaining, recruiting and rewarding educators.

Since its inception, Tucson Supplies Teachers has provided more than $663,000 in supplies to 13 school districts in Southern Arizona. Additionally, last year 25 charter schools were served, along with Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind as well as the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

This year Tucson Supplies and its long-time partners — which include Pima Federal Credit Union, Tucson Association of Realtors, KVOA News 4 Tucson’s Kristi’s Kids — seek to raise $200,000 to provide supplies for 4,000 teachers.

“It seems like it is getting harder and harder for teachers. We continue to see teachers both leaving the state for better paying teaching jobs elsewhere and leaving the profession because they can’t afford to teach,” Rogerson said.

“Tucson Values Teachers continues to offer programs to attract and retain teachers for Southern Arizona and this helps teachers to get the tools they need for classroom success,” she said.

Lisa Kist, who teaches science at Gridley Middle School in Tucson Unified School District, believes strongly in the organization. She has received supplies from the group in the past and is now a member of the board of directors.

Kist said that she spends about $1,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses to outfit her classroom and that any assistance makes a huge difference.

“Lots of parents can’t afford to buy things on the supply list for their kids. It is not that people don’t want to participate or that they feel learning isn’t important. It is more, ‘Either I can pay to keep the lights on or buy school supplies,’ ” Kist said.

In addition to the economic assistance, Kist emphasized that teachers also appreciate the emotional support provided by Tucson Values Teachers and its community partners, which include 80 businesses that provide significant year-round discounts on goods and services.

She said these incentives and other support from the community — including summer industry income with real-world experience, professional development, and a business-education partnership that features a UA master’s degree program for full-time science, technology, engineering and math teachers — provide positive reinforcement for teachers.

“It may sound strange to say that teachers feel appreciated by something as small as Expo (dry erase) markers and discounts, but it does make a difference,” Kist said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.ne