Back to school: Supply and demand

Between what kids want and classes require, getting students outfitted can be spendy

Posted: Sunday, August 27, 2006


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Caleigh Jensen has plenty of new outfits to wear to first grade this year at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science. Outfitting a grade-school student can be like accessorizing a paper doll.

Photo illustration by M. Scott M

With quite possibly the happiest smile on the Kenai Peninsula last week, 7-year-old Haley Knott exited the Soldotna Fred Meyer store with a brand new American Princess school backpack.

Haley and her parents, Jim and Alissa Knott, of Seward, were just finishing some last minute back-to-school shopping for her and 5-year-old sister, Brooke, who started kindergarten last week, as well.


Haley’s teacher did not specify the American Princess style backpack, but a backpack was among the many items on a school supply list required of nearly all returning school children in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

“I just needed a new one. The old one wore out,” Haley said of her new prized possession. “I like princess stuff.”


The school supply list provided by Seward Elementary School also included pencils. Haley wasn’t concerned about their design. Plain ones would do.

Backpacks, pencils, notebooks, scissors and the like are common among most lists of back-to-school supplies required of returning school children, and along with back-to-school clothes, hefty tabs at the cash register are common, as well.

One Sterling mom, Chris Thorne, reported spending $140 on school supplies, which included a backpack and a $25 field trip fee for her returning sixth-grade daughter, Katie Marckesano.


Thorne also spent $650 in Anchorage to get new clothes for Katie to wear during the coming school year.

“She’s at a tough in-between age where she’s not a little girl anymore and not a teen yet,” said Thorne.

“It’s easier to go to Anchorage where there are more stores,” she said.

Among the clothing items that came to $650 are two pairs of tennis shoes — one good pair for $50 and one cheaper pair for $20, according to Mom.


Thorne also bought Katie a new pair of boots for $50.

“We couldn’t just get cheap ones, because last year they had a field trip to go ice fishing and then to go snowshoeing. We needed a good pair of boots,” she said.

Katie also got a new winter coat ($75), gloves ($15), some sweatshirts ($30 each), jeans (between $20 and $50 each pair) and T-shirts ($10 to $17 each).

It adds up.

Because her daughter is in the upper elementary school grades, she is no longer expected to bring community school supplies as are required of younger pupils.


“Except for one box of Kleenex, they bring their own (supplies),” said Thorne.

She said as kids get older, however, they tend to want more expensive supplies — a mechanical pencil, a special notebook.

Some items on the school supply list are things Thorne said Katie had last school year, so they can be used again.


Other items, however, did not make it home from school.

“If she brought her calculator home, she could have used it again,” said Thorne.

It did not come home, though. Katie either forgot it or lost it, her mom said.

“It’s almost like an abyss,” Thorne said. “You send something to school and you don’t know if it’ll come home.”


In many kindergarten and primary grade classes, students are asked to bring enough supplies for the entire class to share — two boxes of tissue, two dozen No. 2 pencils, eight to 10 glue sticks, for example.

Michael Hanson, a school mom in the process of relocating to Soldotna from Clam Gulch, said she does not mind buying multiple items to be shared in her son, Ross Hanson’s second-grade class at Redoubt Elementary.

“I like to see the kids sharing,” she said.

“They’re still sitting at tables — not individual desks — and I think it’s good no one is left out,” Hanson said.

School supply lists vary from school to school, and from grade to grade within the school.


Photo illustration by M. Scott M

At Sterling Elementary, depending on which kindergarten class a child attends, he or she is asked to bring one dozen pencils or two dozen pencils; one box of 24 crayons or a box of 16 crayons; “two boxes of eight Crayola basic colors washable markers” or “one box of Crayola markers”; a pair of child Fiskar scissors or a pair of pointed-end Fiskar scissors.

Both teachers require kids to have a backpack to bring to school each day. The trick might be to get all their supplies to fit into the pack.

By the time kids get into middle school grades, the requirements for community supplies drop off, but the cost of individual items tend to go up.

Laura Marks of Moose Pass said now that her son “is in the big class (fourth-grade), this is the first year he’ll be using pens.”

Nine-year-old Michael Marks said he likes gel pens ... anything with Pirates of the Caribbean on it.

Tim Sandahl and his wife, Lynne, have two children in school: Leah in sixth grade and Joe in seventh.

Tim Sandahl said they have spent about $150 on school supplies for their two children and between $300 and $400 for back-to-school clothing.

He said they don’t mind the expenditure.

“Let’s just say, if there wasn’t school, we’d still have to buy pants,” he said.

“One thing trendy with our kids is Converse,” he said, adding the specific brand of low-cut tennis shoe is important for Leah to have.

“Our son is not particular (about brand names). Jeans and T-shirts are OK with him,” Sandahl said.

Additionally the Sandahls spent $150 on fees, which includes physical education uniforms for both children, computer class fees and activity fees for soccer and cross-country participation.

Tim Sandahl said he and his wife “don’t go overboard, but we want our kids to have what they need.”

Besides having two children in school, Tim Sandahl teaches seventh-grade at Kenai Middle School and is the head track coach at Kenai Central High School. Lynne Sandahl works for the school district.

The Sandahls don’t mind paying the fees for their children’s activities.

“They’re getting quality instruction from guys who have been in it a lot of years,” Tim Sandahl said.

When students transition to high school, the prices jump considerably.

Sally Tachick, administrative secretary to the Kenai Peninsula Borough school board, said her son, Spencer, a senior at Soldotna High School, is taking an upper level biology class this year that requires a $125 textbook.

Also, depending on where he wants to go with math, he will need a $120 calculator for higher-end classes or a calculator that costs just under $100 for lower-end.

Spencer plans to participate in football and soccer and possibly a third sport, Tachick said.

The activity fee for football is $150 and for soccer, it’s $100.

Tachick said the fees cover a full season of play plus two weeks of practice and the use of football gear.

“I’m happy to pay,” she said. “He’s coached by certified coaches and he learns life skills.”

She said her older son, Shane, participated in football, wrestling and soccer in high school and now is able to play all intramural sports at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he is in his third year.

Other fees at the high school level pay for film and photo paper for photo lab, grocery items for food class and consumable supplies for science class.

Fees are also required for participation in activities such as Future Problem Solvers and band, according to Tachick.

Large instruments, such as timpani and bells, are provided by the school, but parents must supply smaller instruments, she said.

As is the case with Chris Thorne at Sterling Elementary, musical instruments can either be purchased outright or rented from area music stores such as the Music Box in Soldotna.

Under a rent-to-own arrangement, parents can rent instruments for $65 a month plus $5 for insurance, according to Thorne.

They may also rent used instruments for $55 a month plus insurance.

Thorne said the nice thing about the arrangement is, if a child decides he or she doesn’t like a particular instrument, it can simply be returned to the store.

While the expense of getting a child back to school in the fall can be high, most parents agree, what the child receives in return is worth it.

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