A surprise for teachers: It's as simple as adopt, shop, give

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rainbow-colored tissue paper flew across Callie Rogers' classroom as her third grade students tore open a trio of surprise packages. Inside they found boxes of crayons and multiplication flash cards, pencils and copy paper, and a couple new pairs of headphones.

It's wasn't anything fancy or flashy, but exclamations of "whoa" and "wow" escaped their mouths. They made piles with the new marker boxes and stacked up packages of wide-ruled loose-leaf paper.

Their teacher stood by nearly speechless at the unexpected delivery, which came as part of the inaugural Adopt-a-Teacher initiative. Through the program, local community members and businesses can support Nashville public schools and students by buying supplies and volunteering to help in their classrooms.

During the last two weeks, hundreds of local teachers have created wish lists filled with basic items and big dreams. Now, it is time for those teachers to be adopted. It's as easy as select, shop and give.

"When our kids are prepared, they're able to be their best selves," said Metro Council member Joy Styles, who took part in Wednesday's teacher surprise at Cane Ridge Elementary. "They're able to be leaders. They're able to change the world.

“But when they don't have enough supplies, when they don't feel like they have support — it's hard to pour out when you're not being poured into.”

'There's just never enough'

This is Rogers' fourth year teaching third grade at Cane Ridge Elementary in Antioch, where more than half the students come low-income families and one-third are English language learners.

She's a Nashville native, a University of Tennessee graduate and a beloved teacher.

"She helps me understand things I didn't know before," one of her students said.

Rogers' third graders love to learn about outer space, mysterious creatures, countries and continents, different cultures, technology and so much more.

She enjoys teaching all about fractions, area and perimeter, multiplication, and — as she was doing when she was surprised in her classroom on Wednesday — discussing things they read together and showing her class how to dig deeper into those passages to help make their statements stronger.

Third grade is a pivotal year for students, she said, as they are expected to mature academically and emotionally. And that means having the basic tools to help them learn and grow.

But Rogers, like so many other teachers, always starts running low on supplies around this time of year.

That's what Adopt-a-Teacher was designed for.

At Cane Ridge Elementary, administrators "take the funding that we have and we’re very, very careful with what we spend and where we spend," said Principal Donna Wilburn.

After allocating for essentials like teachers and staff, they try to fund as many classroom purchases as possible, she said. Nashville public school teachers also get up to $200 in reimbursement for supplies.

"In Metro schools, we do as much as we can with the money that we have, and our teachers are good stewards of that money," Wilburn said.

"But," she added, “there’s just never enough. Because my teachers don’t just do the basic what’s-in-the-book thing. They go beyond, and those beyond things require extra materials and supplies.”

In fact, public school teachers across the United States spend an average of $450 on school supplies each year for which they are not reimbursed, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Often, that includes notebooks, crayons, binders and glue. But many times needs go beyond that.

The most-requested items on Adopt-a-Teacher wish lists include simple things like:

- Over-the-ear headphones: Particularly important for students with special needs and English learners, who do much of their language work by computer.

- Pencils: Ticonderoga seems to be the brand of choice.

- Copy paper: This is in high demand at every school.

- Scotch thermal laminating pouches: To protect papers and copies.

- Expo dry erase markers.

- Clorox or Lysol wipes.

'Education is a foundation that no one can take from you'

Down the hall from Rogers' classroom on Wednesday, fourth grade math and science teacher Kelly Cambre also received a small surprise.

As she unwrapped her gift bag of goodies, she told the students what each item would be used for. Copy paper for the math problems they were working on that day (fun stuff like finding common denominators and reducing fractions), laminating pouches to protect the sheets of science words for an upcoming project, and ...

"Pencils," one girl exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm as Cambre pulled out two packs of already-sharpened writing utensils.

That excitement spread through the room as the kids described what they love about their teacher. "She's funny," one said. "She's smart," added another. "She knows how to explain things," a third said.

"She's just a good teacher," came the matter-of-fact response from a fourth.

And it was that simple.

Supporting teachers like Rogers and Cambre, whether it's through supplies or salary, is vital, Styles said.

"Education is a foundation that no one can take from you," Styles said Wednesday. “It is the one thing that you can pour your time into, and that's not going to change.”

It's worth an outpouring of generosity.