Teachers Get Grant Money for Essential School Supplies

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COLUMBIA - Teachers at Benton STEM Elementary School said Wednesday grants and purchases out of pocket are keeping their classrooms up to par. Benton just received its latest grant this month.

Second grade teacher Haley Floyd said grants are a great way to try to get some extra money for supplies. Floyd applied for and received a $450 grant this school year that she spent on supplies to further students' ability to understand words. She bought a magnetic easel and some word games to help her second graders whose abilities aren't up to grade level.

Kindergarten teacher Brian Schwerdtfeger got his grant from the Assistance League and spent the money on reading materials. He said he bought lots of guided reading books that he can tailor to each individual student. He said when they all sit down to read, the guided reading books can fit the reading level of each of his kindergarten students.

STEM Specialist Heather McCullar said the school has received twenty grants not including individual teacher supply grants like Floyd's and Schwerdtfeger's. The grants total nearly $25,000. McCullar said the money goes to projects above and beyond the curriculum at Benton allowing the school to purchase things like solar panels and outdoor learning equipment. Some of the money went to essential items including cleaning supplies and nonfiction library books.

While the grants help teachers and staff, Floyd and Schwedtfeger both said they spend several hundred dollars each year on supplies for the classroom. From books to markers to calendars, Floyd said she often has to foot the bill to make the learning environment conducive to her specific kids.

Schwedtfeger said he buys pencils and other supplies for his classroom each year too. He said the lists given to parents of things students need don't always fit particular classroom needs. He said he spends a couple hundred dollars of his own money every year.

Columbia Public School Superintendent Chris Belcher said the practice is common. Belcher said sometimes it's easier for teachers to stop by the store the day before and pick up some supplies for a particular lesson. He said he thinks there is a good budget for supplies but getting that money takes time. Belcher thinks teachers often find it easier to swing by a store and grab what they need.

Belcher said teachers can get up to $400 deducted off their taxes for items they purchase for their classrooms and he hopes teachers are taking advantage of that.