School supplies nothing to sniff at

  • Tue Aug 24th, 2010 9:55pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist

If some future beings happen to unearth a school supply list, they might conclude that kids back in 2010 were so advanced that they were performing surgery.

That’s one way of explaining the heavy emphasis on germ management in places devoted to reading, writing and arithmetic.

The following items are on supply lists for various grade levels at my son’s school, where students are in preschool through eighth grade: six packages disinfectant wipes (three for regular classes, three for computer class), two large boxes Kleenex, two rolls paper towels, two containers Purell hand sanitizer, one box of baby wipes and another of antibacterial wipes, and a box of Band-Aids.

It’s puzzling that my sixth-grader, who erases his way through many math assignments, is expected to need just one Pink Pearl eraser all year long.

In truth, I’m happy to provide anything that prevents nasty illnesses from sweeping through classrooms. I have enough 1960s-era memories of classmates getting sick, and of schoolroom visits by sawdust-spreading janitors, to last a lifetime.

At a big-box store Monday, my boy and I checked off our list all the required supplies for his class at Everett’s Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. It’s been an annual ritual since my daughter started at the school in 1988.

In a way, school supply lists have a lot to say about what’s on our minds. Two years ago, for the first time, my then-fourth-grader’s list included a USB flash drive, a thumb-size device for storing and transporting computer files. It was a sure sign that the future is here. Now I’m used to school requests for thumb drives, which are as common to kids today as calculators became to earlier generations.

Last winter, families and the Snohomish Health District were concerned about swine flu. I was one of hundreds of area parents who stood in lines to make sure a child was vaccinated against the flu also known as H1N1. After last year, it’s understandable why schools are asking for hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes.

The Mukilteo School District’s Picnic Point Elementary takes a divide-and-conquer approach with its supply list, asking fourth- and fifth-grade boys to bring antibacterial wipes and the girls to bring pump bottles of hand sanitizer. At Penny Creek Elementary, in the Everett School District, the list shows that in some classes a USB memory stick is optional, but baby wipes are mandatory.

Like my son’s school, Brier Elementary in the Edmonds School District asks parents for a long list of classroom supplies, and also for a separate survival kit. Among items for emergency kits, stuffed into gallon-size Ziploc bags, are nonperishable snacks and juice, a small flashlight, a survival space blanket, and a reassuring letter from home.

Even with one school-age child, it’s a lot to buy. My son will use some supplies from last year, but I still spent about $100 to get all his classroom and emergency-kit items.

It’s the start of yet another school year tempered by recession. As The New York Times reported in an Aug. 15 article, families aren’t the only ones hurting. Across the country, schools with shrinking budgets look to parents to provide more and more supplies. Barbara Chester, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, told The New York Times that “Some of the things that have been historically provided by schools, we’re not able to provide at this point.”

In the Granite Falls School District, Mountain Way Elementary’s supply list, from kindergarten through fifth grade, includes a real basic — each child is asked to bring one ream of white copy paper.

These are hard times. In Honolulu, every student at Pauoa Elementary School must show up not only with printer paper, but with a four-pack of toilet paper.

Maybe it’s my line of work — I noticed something missing from my son’s list that was on it in years past. With all that focus on hand-cleaning, the school forgot to ask for a paperback dictionary.

I’ll send one anyway. Some things are more important than preventing sniffles.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;