Gifts that keep on giving

Sterling Elementary teachers put gift cards to good use

Teachers at Sterling Elementary School spend money out of pocket to stock their classrooms with much-needed school supplies. This dedication to students was recognized during an assembly last week.


Sterling Elementary was the recipient of 10 $100 gift cards awarded to the school by Walmart. The cards were given out randomly with school Principal Christine Ermold pulling names from a coffee mug.

The teachers are able to spend the money as they see fit, and having extra money helps bolster education.

"It's so nice when teachers are able to take care of supplies," Ermold said. "Get it done, have what they need and get focused back on learning."

First-grade teacher Amanda Brendtro has already spent her gift card on art supplies. She purchased clay to add variety to her curriculum. Recently, her first-graders made pumpkins.

"I just thought it would be a great way to spend it," she said. "I wanted to purchase clay to add some variety into things; to do some three-dimensional projects."

Fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Cynthia Ussing plans on using part of her gift card to purchase materials, such as fabric, to supplement movement in drama activities she's been implementing in the classroom.

Ussing learned the teaching method during a summer class in 2010. It helps teach subject matter through the use of drama and movement, she said.

"We can use it to help with reading, or really with any subject," she said. "(The class) has been learning about salmon and the salmon life cycle during science, so I can use movement in that."

Funding provided by the Kenai Peninsula Borough for supplies is used on textbooks and teaching materials. It often does not provide for the special needs of children from financially struggling families. For example, the school cannot spend the borough's money on gym shoes or snow boots. Brendtro estimates she spends around $1,000 of her own money on students a year. She buys books, snacks, reusable water bottles and basic supplies. She also buys hats and gloves in case a student needs them.

Ussing spends her own money as well, buying supplies for students who cannot afford them.

Teachers across the country spent more than $1.33 billion out of pocket collectively on school supplies, snacks and instructional materials during the 2009 to 2010 school year, according to the National School Supply and Equipment Association.

During the fall, Sterling Elementary sees an influx of families that have moved to the area from out of state. Reasons for moving to the area can include job loss and financial strain. If a student is spotted without warm gear the school will check with the family. The parents often cannot afford the purchase, Ermold said.

"It's an extremely apparent need when you see children going out to recess with thin-layered coats... So being able to get hats and gloves, and being able to collect donated coats is very important," she said. "Sometimes it's teachers who provide those."

Though its Teacher Rewards program, Walmart and Sam's Club locations nationwide invested $4.5 million toward America's teachers, providing 45,000 gift cards to help offset the cost of classroom expenses. The program is in its third year.

Sterling is a positive behavior intervention support school, or PBS school. It is a form of discipline with emphasis on school-wide systems of support that include proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments.

During the award assembly Ermold reminded students to practice encouragement not only with their peers but with their teachers.

Ermold was thrilled with the reports of encouragement students were sharing.

"One of my students came up to me and said, 'Ms. Ermold, I wanted to let you know I just complimented my teacher, because even though she didn't get a gift card, she takes care of us every day, and she makes sure we have what we need everyday.'"


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