Lauren Pencola spent Wednesday decorating her first-grade classroom at Orchard Grove Elementary School with all her new school supplies — something that may not have been possible if not for a nationwide social media campaign to support teachers that has gone viral.
At least two Frederick County teachers have been successful using #clearthelist to receive everything from the basics such as index cards and crayons to more specific items like liquid droppers for science classes.
“It’s great, because I know so many teachers that spend so much extra money just because we want to go above and beyond to provide what we need for our kids,” Pencola said. “You can give to charities, but this is something where you can see where your gift is going.”
Scroll through any major social media platform and #clearthelist may appear. Celebrities including Peter Madrigal from the reality television series “Vanderpump Rules” and Kristen Johnston from the CBS TV series “Mom” have added it to their social media profiles and been using the hashtag almost daily.
The campaign focuses on helping teachers clear their Amazon wishlists of classroom supplies as back-to-school season kicks into gear.
Anybody can visit a teacher’s wishlist, buy an item, and have it shipped directly to the teacher.
“I usually end up spending several hundred dollars getting everything that I need, and I noticed all these people were getting gifted stuff and I was just like, ‘this is amazing,’” Melissa Kaehny said.
Kaehny is a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School. She has created a wishlist every summer before school for years. Usually, her mom, sister, and other friends help her clear it, but after hearing about the campaign, she decided to share her list more widely.
Soon she began receiving packages on her doorstep containing items from her list.
“It’s so exciting because we are spending tons of our own money, and it’s nice to see that other people care, you know, people you’ve never met,” Kaehny said. “They’re willing to spend their money for kids they’ll never know, and I think that’s what it’s all about, is helping out the kids.”
The hashtag “clear the list” was started by Courtney Jones, an elementary school teacher in Texas. In a video posted on YouTube, Jones explained that the movement originated from a group of teachers on Facebook who had begun giving one another supplies on their Amazon wishlist.
As the word spread, Jones says the group grew from 1,000 people to almost 25,000 people. She soon created four different Facebook groups based on region to keep everything organized.
The movement expanded with the hashtag and now has more than 200,000 members nationwide, according to Jones’ Twitter profile bio.
“This is the best way that I know how to get the message out to people and businesses all across the nation on how to support us,” Jones said in the YouTube video. “The purpose is to give. To spread love, joy, happiness and to get others involved so we can support each other.”
Pencola said the most exciting part is when the donor includes a note with the package.
Pencola shared a few with The News-Post.
“I don’t always need extra supplies for my position. Glad to support your classroom!” read one note.
Another thanked her for teaching the next generation.
“Thanks for all you do, shaping the mind of today’s youth! Hope your class enjoys this,” it reads.
Pencola said after sharing her wishlist online, she started receiving packages within three days. So far, she has received everything from glue sticks to crayons to a mini bookshelf.
Both Pencola and Kaehny, who have been teaching for six years said, on average, they spend a few hundred dollars each year on supplies for their classroom.
According to a 2018 study released by the National Center of Education Statistics, 94 percent of public school teachers reported spending their own money on classroom supplies without reimbursement for the 2014-2015 school year.
Additionally, teachers surveyed reported spending $479 on average.
“Teachers aren’t paid enough. We have students who can’t afford school supplies, so we’re buying them for them, and I’m hoping that our government leaders are paying attention,” Kaehny said. “Education needs more money. ... Without education, you have nothing.”
Pencola agreed, saying parents and others sometimes don’t realize how often supplies need to be replenished. She said teachers buy supplies all year long as boxes of tissues empty, or students grow tired of reading the same books. And with every new school year comes a new start.
“You just always want to be new and fresh, because it’s always a new group. ... So you get new ideas, you find out what works and what needs to change and you’re constantly needing new things,” Pencola said.
As she heads toward the start of school, Pencola will be decorating her classroom with many of the supplies she has received from “clear the list” and said she can’t wait for the first day.
“I’m really excited about my room and to show that off and just use our new supplies,” she said.