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Teachers grapple with inflation while shopping for back-to-school supplies

According to the National Retail Federation, spending on Back-To-School supplies is up 40 percent, as prices climb due to inflation.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The first day of class is right around the corner and while parents and students gear up for the school year, teachers are too.

Teachers across Hampton Roads are already starting to return to classrooms. Soon, the hallways of Denbigh High School in Newport News will be busier.

Classes start August 29, which is a week earlier than usual. That means Donna Phelps-Thomas is already preparing for that first bell ring.

“I’m looking forward to really being with my students,” said Phelps-Thomas.

“Mrs. P-T,” as students call her, is a science teacher and one of many educators across the school division back for training.

Phelps-Thomas retired from the Air Force after 20 years before becoming a teacher in 2016. Her passion for science dates back to her days in high school in California, where she enrolled in a program geared toward encouraging students toward STEM careers.

She’s also decorating her classroom and picking up school supplies, including 130 composition notebooks for her students.

“That’s in addition to pencils and paper, other supplies that we need in the classroom,” she said.

But this year, she’s noticed school supplies feel a bit heavier on the wallet than years past.

She’s not alone.

According to the National Retail Federation, spending on back-to-school supplies is up 40%. 

Families aren’t the only ones shopping for supplies, teachers often pay out of their pockets, too.

Pamela Donaldson-Johnson teaches English at Bayside Sixth Grade Campus in Virginia Beach and is entering her 20th year as an educator.

“They mostly buy their supplies for the kids that really can’t afford them, so it becomes an out-of-pocket expense for the teachers,” she said.

There are efforts to help with the load, including a school supply drive in Hampton over the weekend. School divisions can also help purchase some materials.

“I’m just ready for something new in 2022,” said Donaldson-Johnson.

Donaldson-Johnson said elementary teachers are "knee deep" in classroom decor and planning lessons and activities. That includes printing, laminating and cutting out materials.

Donaldson-Johnson and Phelps-Thomas both say they are excited most to see all of the new faces and to teach in an environment without pandemic restrictions.

“We don’t have any particular protocol we have to follow,” said Phelps-Thomas, who said she had to adjust certain scientific activities last year.

“Students and staff alike are still recovering from the pandemic in a variety of ways,” said Donaldson-Johnson.

Donaldson-Johnson said some are still dealing with the trauma of the pandemic and the lack of social skills, and she said many parents are still emotionally and financially strapped.

She said teachers learned their own lessons during the pandemic.

“Hopefully, though, we are able to move forward and do things differently than we have done in the past,” she said.

Both teachers said they are most excited to meet the new faces during the upcoming school year, and there is still a lot of work to do!

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