An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. That's a quote from Ben Franklin that many teachers believe in. And they know in order to invest in knowledge, their students need the right tools to succeed. Unfortunately, for more than half the students in Rockford, Belvidere, Harlem and Freeport public schools, affording school supplies isn't possible. Often times, teachers are left filling in the gaps to provide those much needed supplies.
"Educators do it all the time, throughout the school year. Other professions don't do that," said Tui Harned, a preschool teacher at Nashold Elementary in Rockford.
Every year, she gets ready for school weeks in advance and sets up her classroom. A lot of that setup relies on money from her own pocket,.
"We always say we expect kids to come in with not everything that they need," she said.
Harden's husband is also a teacher, and she says together they've spent roughly $500 a school year on supplies for students.
"We're not rich but we know what we need for our classrooms and for our students to succeed. So we bite the bullet and do that, not because we want to be martyrs or anything but just 'cause we need to do it, and the kids need it," said Harned.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, more than half of students at RPS 205 and Belvidere School District 100 are low income. The Harlem School District has 58% low income students. The Freeport School District says it is currently at 78% poverty. That's up from the 67% reported by the state board of education.
Harned says teachers can only provide so much for their students. But she says the community can help fill the gaps. That's where 13 WREX's Stuff the Bus initiative comes in, which brings in thousands of school supplies for students across the area thanks to the generosity from the community.
"Everyone's doing what they can for their kids and we all come from different backgrounds, different means. And I think Stuff the Bus showcases the generosity of our community and just the understanding that some kids just don't have the supplies and what we take for granted, they might be really anxious and worried they don't have what they need to begin school," she said.
Those supplies get divvied up between the school districts, and the principals of schools hand them out to students in need.