Where else does this problem exist? No one has to procure their own materials in other fields, yet we ask it of the profession that creates all other professions. Karen Calder
It’s been an exceptionally challenging three years for teachers.
Along with working longer hours, adapting to new technology and going above and beyond to support their students, educators also typically spend an average of $750 out of their own pocket to purchase classroom supplies each year.
That expense burden and the added stress educators face today keep Karen Calder up at night – and inspire her to get up each morning.
“One of the biggest changes I have seen, and it’s an unfortunate one, is the speed at which teacher retention and recruitment has declined,” said Calder, the executive director of Classroom Central, a Charlotte, North Carolina, nonprofit providing free supplies to teachers at under-resourced schools. “What weighs heavy on us is the impact of how we can help retain our current teachers and recruit new ones.”
It’s something Thad Walton is also passionate about due to a personal connection.
“My parents spent their entire careers as educators in the North Carolina public school system,” said Walton, Commercial Banking leader and market executive for Regions Bank in Charlotte. “They invested far more than just classroom time in their students’ education, preparing lesson plans during summer break or grading papers in bed, whatever the task may have been. I also grew up in a typical rural town where having adequate school supplies never crossed my mind as a ‘privilege.’ No parent, teacher and certainly no child should ever feel that way, which is why Classroom Central is so important to the Charlotte community.”
Regions Bank associates in Charlotte have been doing their part to collect and donate essential supplies to Classroom Central since 2007.
At the head of the class in supporting the effort from those earliest days? Retired Regions associate Kimberly Charles and Bill Bateman, a credit executive with the bank’s Diversified Industries Risk team.
“There’s an alignment between Classroom Central’s mission to foster equity in education by providing teachers and students with the free resources they need to succeed and the bank’s mission to make life better for the communities where we live and serve,” said Bateman.
While Bateman takes the collection seriously, he takes a light-hearted approach to encourage his teammates to contribute. During the annual drive, associates at Regions’ Charlotte Uptown headquarters are likely to spot Bateman wearing a pencil costume he purchased several years ago to draw attention to the cause.
Call it an innovative way to achieve desired results.
Classroom Central is employing two equally innovative ideas in its quest to keep teachers in the district and encourage others to enter the profession.
“We piloted our Teacher Launch Box program last year and it was so successful that we decided to continue it this year,” said Calder.
Classroom Central provides and even delivers a box filled with core supplies to first-year teachers four times a year. There’s no need to register or sign up.
“If you’re a beginning teacher fresh out of college, you will get this box,” Calder explained. “This started as a way for us to educate beginning teachers about the services we offer, but we’ve discovered that it’s a teacher recruitment tool. When our district is competing against other school districts, this is a way we can put resources valued at a couple of thousand dollars into their hands for free.”
The program is reaching 350 new Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers this academic year.
The second idea on Classroom Central’s radar?
“One of the things we’re embarking on next year is a retention project,” said Calder. “We’re working with principals at five schools with high turnover rates to do a deep dive on why teachers are leaving and help them create an excellent culture inside their schools, so teachers feel valued and supported.”
So many times, it’s the little things that make a difference in people feeling appreciated. Culture … that’s what we’re looking to help these principals foster. Karen Calder
What does that resemble?
Supporting existing Teacher of the Month and Year programs, providing gift cards to grocery and other retail establishments, hosting catered breakfast and lunches, rolling through the hallways with a snack cart and even providing tickets to area professional sporting events. Corporate partners and individual donors are assisting with covering the program’s costs.
“So many times, it’s the little things that make a difference in people feeling appreciated,” Calder added. “Culture … that’s what we’re looking to help these principals foster.”
Calder appreciates the longtime support Regions, Bateman and Walton have provided to Classroom Central.
“Bill and Thad are both members of our S.E.E.D., our multi-year giving society,” she said. “And Regions has supported us financially through sponsorships, as well as the School Tools campaign. They’ve been so good to Classroom Central.”
The Power of a Pencil:
When Classroom Central launched in 2002, it provided $750,000 in supplies to 36 schools. This year alone, they’ve distributed $9 million in supplies to 237 schools. Hear from two teachers about what those items mean for them and their students:
“The folders, whiteboard markers, scissors and pencil cases have really helped the friends in my class that did not come to school with supplies. If I did not get these extra supplies, those children would have to use Ziplocs for pencil cases and paper instead of the whiteboards. As a first-year teacher, I have not had an opportunity to collect supplies to have extras for my students who come to school with nothing. These boxes ensure all of my scholars are getting the supplies they need.”
“If I didn’t receive the materials gifted to me, it would have meant that I had to purchase those items on my own dime. These supplies have been a game changer and more than welcomed. To Classroom Central: thank you!”