August 30th, 2013

School Supplies and My Interview with The Wall Street Journal

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Groovy Green Livin School Supplies

School Supplies

School supplies are covering every square inch of my living room floor at the moment. Notebooks, protractors, crayons, colored pencils and binders are everywhere.

The tedious collection of school supplies began a few days ago when I had the sudden realization that school was about to begin and I had done nothing to prepare. The actual shopping took a few hours and now I’m knee deep in crates and boxes filled with everything my three boys will need according to the back-to-school supply lists.

This year I made the decision to attack one school supply list at a time. It was comical. Running from aisle 3B for crayons to aisle 8A for paper and then back and forth again for the next class. I’m sure there was a better way to approach this and you’d think I’d have figured it out by now, but there’s always next year.

The school supply lists are interesting. Some teachers are very explicit about what brands they want while other school supply lists are a bit more open-ended with room for interpretation.

If  a list is specific and asks for a product that could be harmful to my child or other children I  have no problem deviating from the list.  For example I always send in a safe alternative to alcohol based hand sanitizer. I generally don’t write a letter to the teacher explaining my position, but if you’re interested here’s a  sample letter to a teacher which spells out why some of the school supplies have been swapped out for safer alternatives.

The real concern is that many if not most of the school supplies are placed into a classroom “pool” for general consumption. So my sending in one lone bottle of safe hand sanitizer isn’t going to make much of a difference. I still haven’t figured out a way to tackle this.

My Interview with the Wall Street Journal

I was recently contacted by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal to talk about school supplies and whether or not I stick to school the suggested products on school supply lists.

We had a really interesting conversation about how product placement could be lurking in our children’s school supply lists. There seems to be a tremendous push by big brands to get their names out there and at the top of all of our school supply lists. For example “teachers, parents or school administrators who put Kleenex on their lists were entered into a sweepstakes that could win their school $25,000 to buy books and other supplies…”. So of course parents are swayed to buy Kleenex.

Product placement on school supply lists poses a number of issues. Requiring families to buy specific brands when there may be more economical options isn’t fair. Also, as I mention in the Wall Street Journal article, I want the option to send in non-toxic school supplies, especially when the suggested product is a product that comes in contact with food or the children’s skin. I really wish more school systems would suggest safer alternatives for some products such as hand sanitizer and wipes.

You can read the full article and find my quote HERE.

I’m wondering how you feel about all of this. How do you handle school supply lists? Do you follow them or do you deviate?


photo credit: JimmyMac210 via photopin cc>

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14 Responses to “School Supplies and My Interview with The Wall Street Journal”

  1. My son’s school asked for Puff’s Plus w/lotion. Not a good choice for a child with asthma. I will send him with his own, more organic tissues.

  2. I definitely deviate! Sometimes for safer products, most times for price. I know that Ticonderoga pencils are the BEST, but if I can get Staples pencils for FREE – well, you know. The quantities of items we are asked to donate to the POOL of classroom supplies seems to get larger and larger every year. What happens to all those crayons at the end of the year? What happened to peeling them down til they were so small you could not hold onto them anymore?

  3. “So my sending in one lone bottle of safe hand sanitizer isn’t going to make much of a difference. I still haven’t figured out a way to tackle this”

    Okay, when it comes to hand sanitizer, I flat out send an email to teachers telling them that I have sent in the hand sanitizer that they’ve asked for but my daughter will have her own travel size bottle of hand sanitizer that she is not required to share. I explain that if there is a problem, to please contact me through phone or email and I don’t expect any problems. I do the same with her water bottle. Teachers usually get pissy about the H2O (which is dumb) but I explain that she gets dehydrated do to her medication and has to drink water all the time. Just be honest with teachers and they will 99% of the time work with you. The 1% can, quite honestly, bite me. lol
    Susan F recently posted..Inner VoiceMy Profile

  4. This is my first year getting one of these lists (1st grader). First, I want to say that I think these lists are dumb and should not be allowed. When I taught in low-income schools, I figured out how to use the supplies I could order through the school or I bought things myself. I think it’s unfair to pressure families to purchase supplies themselves. My child is in a low-income school now (entire school is on free lunch). While our teacher’s list was reasonable, some of my friends’ kids had lists that required going to 3 different stores and spending over $100! Totally ridiculous.

    I didn’t have a huge beef with my list. Mostly I just wanted to buy the stuff and get it over with. In a better world, I would have tried to purchase more things with recycled content. I only deviated from the list in one place: the teacher specified Ticonderoga pencils. I refuse to buy these b/c they have Microban, which I consider completely gratuitous and irresponsible considering our issues with antibiotic resistance. I just bought some US made pencils supposedly made with sustainable wood available in Target.

    We’ll get another list of requests at back-to-school night I”m sure for classroom supplies like tissues, etc. I’ll probably volunteer to buy a huge thing of EO hand sanitizer so my kids aren’t using the standard stuff.

    The product placement stuff is very troubling. Corporations are always trying to buy off schools and sneak in marketing to families and kids. So lame.
    Betsy (Eco-novice) recently posted..Help Protect the Endangered City Forest: Plant a Tree!My Profile

  5. P.S. Congrats on the WSJ interview!
    Betsy (Eco-novice) recently posted..Help Protect the Endangered City Forest: Plant a Tree!My Profile

  6. Thanks so much Betsy! Really appreciate your support, as always :)

  7. Thanks so much for your insight Betsy. I agree with you- when it comes to low income families I think it’s unreasonable to request specific brands. I had no idea that Ticonderoga pencils contained Microban. They seem to be on every one of my lists.

  8. Thanks for sharing Susan. I think honesty and open communications works. I have to admit that it’s getting exhausting, year after year of explaining my position. Hopefully over time it won’t be necessary.

  9. Thanks for your input Lynn. Good question about the crayons-what does happen to all the crayons? I know my kids came home with a lot of extra supplies last year and we were able to reuse some this year.

  10. Hi Raeanne, How do you make sure that your son will only be exposed to the tissues you send in? Do you have a conversation with the teacher?

  11. This name brand pressure for schools to promote certain brands is interesting. Wonder why they’re not required to disclose this to the public the way bloggers have to disclose any gifts or incentives?
    Anne recently posted..Summer, Don’t Go…My Profile

  12. Interesting question Anne. It would be nice if there was transparency so parents could make educated choices about the products they’re buying.

  13. […] attention to the school supplies you send into school. Make sure you opt for the non-toxic version of wipes, hand sanitizers and […]

  14. […] and asks for a product that could be harmful to my child or other children I  have no problem deviating from the list.  For example I always send in a safe alternative to alcohol based hand […]

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About Lori

I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, mom of three and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. I hope you'll join me as I embark on a journey to live a healthy life. Along the way I might make a few pit stops to fight for issues that affect the health and safety of our families. Come along with me as I work hard to make the world a little safer for each of us. Together we'll discover that simple, small changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle and a greener planet.

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