by Alexis Kikoen, Theresa Ho – Published on August 18, 2022 – Last modified on August 31, 2022
AURORA Colo. — In a room filled with school supplies, Elba Barahona searched for items she thought her incoming students might like. She looked for markers, colored paper, folders – fun and colorful items the kids could enjoy.
Barahona was preparing for her first year as a preschool teacher at Laredo Child Development Center. Before becoming a teacher, she was a paraprofessional for six years and said that she has known she wanted to be a teacher since she was 3 years old.
In addition to having many school supplies to choose from, the room has one more perk: all the supplies are free.
The room is called the Educator Emporium, a place where Aurora Public School (APS) teachers can come and get supplies that they need for their classrooms and students several times a month throughout the school year.
According to Barahona, teachers have been using their personal money to provide school supplies for years.
“Teachers are always in need of markers, papers. We just want our students to have all the supplies that they need on the first day that they come in,” she said.
Providing school supplies out-of-pocket can be expensive for teachers. In 2018, Chalkbeat Colorado reported that Colorado teachers spend an average of $656 of their own money on their students and classroom every year.
[Related: 94 percent of U.S. teachers spend their own money on school supplies]
Jill Ruiter, executive director of the Aurora Public Schools Foundation, which oversees the program, explained that the Educator Emporium is a way for APS to support its teachers and students.
“We know that there are needs all throughout the school year. Students move here in the middle of the year and sometimes look to their teachers to supply them with different supplies. Or, teachers run out of supplies in December, in January,” Ruiter said.
According to Ruiter, supplies are funded through donations and grants. Many of the volunteers that help run the Educator Emporium, which started in 2021, are retired APS educators and community members.
In the week leading up to the new school year alone, Ruiter estimated that the Educator Emporium has served almost 500 teachers already.
“This week we’ve probably seen somewhere of $20,000 worth of supplies walk out our doors,” Ruiter said.
[Related: For the first time in 20 years, teachers can deduct more for school supplies]
Cynthia Andrews, the coordinator at Laredo Child Development Center, said that while kids do bring some school supplies, teachers care deeply about supporting their students.
“I’ve been teaching for a long time, and each year you spend a lot of your own money,” Andrews said. “This is a great opportunity to just make sure that our kids get what they need and that our teachers are able to provide that for them.”
Andrews looked for unique writing supplies. She wanted items that would encourage kids to love writing, explore new mediums and have an early love for learning.
“The joy of our school is it’s often a child’s first introduction into public education,” Andrews said. “For a lot of our parents, it’s the first time that they are entering into our public schools. And that brings a great amount of joy and a great amount of responsibility.”
Theresa Ho is the RMPBS Kids digital content producer.
Alexis Kikoen is the senior producer at Rocky Mountain PBS.
APS FoundationEducational Services CenterBuilding 115701 E. 1st Ave., #206Aurora, CO 80011