The South Kitsap School District will provide basic school supplies to all students in kindergarten through third grade at a cost of approximately $30,000.
Families with children entering kindergarten through grade three at South Kitsap can check off one item on their back-to-school bucket list: the annual scavenger hunt for school supplies.
No need to search for the best deals on crayons, crayons, notebook paper, glue sticks and other number 2 class staples. No debating whether to buy the Frozen spiral notebook or the Hello Kitty spiral notebook. No need to buy boxes of Kleenex for class sharing.
This year, the South Kitsap School District is covering the cost of basic supplies for its youngest students. In a separate but related move, the district is also skipping its annual back-to-school celebration, during which free supplies were handed out.
The decision to distribute a uniform set of supplies for all K-3 students came after surveys of parents showed confusion about the lists and, for some, concerns about cost.
Some classes, even in the same school, would have different supplies, Superintendent Karst Brandsma said. And some families struggle to afford basic supplies.
“We’re trying to find ways to break down the barriers that keep kids from engaging,” Brandsma said. “One of the difficulties that can sometimes get in the way is the cost of school attendance.”
The district received supplies donated by local businesses, including Walmart and Staples. The rest was purchased at a discount through purchasing cooperatives. The total cost to the district will be approximately $30,000, covered by local levies.
District staff and volunteers have spent the past month assembling and filling 3,500 boxes of supplies. Boxes can be reused to hold keepsakes from the school year. Supplies will be distributed at back-to-school events at each elementary school before the first day of class.
The district hopes to expand the “free supply” program to upper classes in future years, as the budget allows, Brandsma said. Students in grades 4 and up can still get free supplies from the district through community donations and monetary support from local service clubs, churches, businesses and the South Kitsap Public Education Foundation.
The Kurt Wagner Foundation also offers support for students.
“Our community just grew,” Brandsma said.
He sees the move to uniform school supplies as a matter of fairness.
“We’ve had kids at school where everyone’s got hot pink and mine isn’t hot pink,” Brandsma said. “It was just the right thing to do.”
Bellingham Public Schools, where Brandsma previously worked as an administrator, launched the Free Education Project in 2011, where families are not asked to pay for school supplies and certain activities. The program continues today.
Last year, the South Kitsap School District reduced its activity fee to encourage student participation. In high school, students pay the full $75 fee for the first sport or activity, but a reduced fee of $40 for the second and there is no fee for additional activities. At colleges, the first two activities cost $35 each, but there is no additional charge after the second activity.
“We find that students do better in the classroom when they participate in clubs, sports and activities and we want to remove any barriers that might get in the way of their participation,” Brandsma said. “We are committed to providing equity and access to all students.”
In high school, the district covers the cost of PSAT testing for all students.
Brandsma said the district decided to forgo the back-to-school celebration this year in part after learning that some of the supplies were going to families outside the district. The event, which has been running for 13 years, has been well attended, with services including free haircuts, games, bus rides and information booths.
“We still need the support of community partners and service organizations. We hope that those who have generally attended or supported the back to school celebration will contribute to the expansion of the school supply program,” said Brandsma. “This change will bring the focus back to the students in our schools, which was the original intention of the celebration event.”
Donations of money and supplies are encouraged and more information is available from the Office of School and Family Support at 360-874-7054.
Bremerton School District Back to School Fair
What: The Bremerton School District, Abundant Life Foursquare Church and the Bremerton Schools & Alumni Foundation will host the district’s third annual Back to School Fair, offering free school supplies, access to community resources, games and activities, book giveaway and school bus tours. The fair is for families in the Bremerton School District only.
When: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday
Or: Mountain View High School