Lisa Chrans standing in front of OK Elementary School.
Lisa Chrans wanted to support her granddaughter's school. She started Wichita Teachers Wishlists to do just that. (Alex Unruh/Wichita Beacon)

Lisa Chrans is a grandmother in Wichita who wants her granddaughter to have things she didn’t have. When her granddaughter entered kindergarten three years ago at Enterprise Elementary School, she wondered how she could help support the child’s school. 

Chrans herself grew up one of five children in a low-income household in California. She remembered getting excited when the family would receive clothing vouchers from charities such as Goodwill to help pay for new garments.

A self-described social media addict,  Chrans said, “I was always on Facebook and I happened to see a post about ‘Clear the List.’” 

The campaign operating as #clearthelist is a national effort to help teachers stock their classrooms. Chrans was inspired to contact her granddaughter’s teacher and help her buy supplies. Other teachers at the granddaughter’s school took notice.  “They were like, ‘How do you do that?’ and wanted to do it, too.” 

To help more teachers, the social media fan created a Facebook group called Wichita Teachers Wishlists. More than 1,500 teachers have joined the group since it was created in August 2019. There teachers post lists of items they need and other community members – and occasionally even celebrities – buy them. 

What do teachers ask for?

Teachers ask for a wide range of items to fill their classrooms: books to read, whiteboards to write on, games for younger children to play on bad-weather days.

“There is a lot they are expected to put in their classrooms,” Chrans said. 

Caitlin Woolard is trying to supply items for kindergartners,  first and second graders she teaches as a special education teacher at Park Elementary School.

“I usually ask for the basics like crayons, markers, glue sticks,” Woolard said. “It’s hard, especially with inflation. Especially in the primary grade levels, we do a lot of activities that involve pasting and gluing and coloring and they go through it like crazy. I mean, have you seen how kids use glue?”

Kara Henry Fortier, an English and English electives teacher for Wichita Heights High School, said teachers are expected to supply anything that isn’t basic supplies such as desks, tables, chairs and instruction books. Fortier has been doing this for 11 years. 

The items asked for don’t stop at the classroom. She tries to meet basic needs with snacks and other essentials for hungry low-income children. 

“I’ve bought shoes for kids, clothes for kids…,” Fortier said. “I’ve spent $5,000 in my classroom in a year.” 

Woolard estimates she spends at least $1,000. 

Students head to class after the morning bell at Wichita East High School. (Rafael Garcia/Wichita Beacon)

Why do teachers spend so much on their students?

“Teachers have been expected to give and give and give to our students,” Fortier said. “And we are told we should do it for the kids because we love the kids. We shouldn’t worry about the paycheck or the overtime or the time spent away from our own families and kids.

“We are treated as superheroes instead of human beings with lives outside of our work. And of course we will do it. None of us got into teaching to be millionaires, but I would like to, you know, provide for my family in a way that doesn’t kill me.” 

A recent report by the RAND Corp., a research organization, found that expectations placed on teachers cause levels of stress and burnout that are higher than for other working adults, and that stress can harm student learning outcomes. 

Wichita teachers do receive limited help from the school district. A statement from USD 259 said each school receives an allotment of funds, based on its enrollment, that principals may allocate as they wish. A sampling of Wichita teachers and principals says that this can translate anywhere from zero to a few hundred dollars per teacher at best. The district also has grant funds teachers can compete for to fund special projects.

The federal government provides teachers a $250 annual tax credit to offset what they spend on classroom supplies. Efforts to match that with a state tax credit have stalled in the Kansas Legislature. 

Without more formal public support, teachers rely on themselves and the generosity of individuals. The broad reach of social media can produce some surprising results. 

“My granddaughter’s first grade teacher got almost all of her list bought by Valerie Bertinelli,” Chrans said. Bertinelli, an actress and former wife of rock star Eddie Van Halen, saw the list posted on Twitter under the hashtag #clearthelist.  “It was her first year participating, and when I went to pick up my granddaughter, (the teacher) was almost in tears.”

Fortier wishes schools would increase the money that goes directly to equipping students. Local teachers lack bargaining power to negotiate for this because Kansas teachers are unable to go on strike. 

I would like to, you know, provide for my family in a way that doesn’t kill me.

Kara HEnry Fortier

From Facebook to community

Almost daily, a new photo of a teacher with a new list will be posted  – and often Chrans posts a thank you to donors. 

Chrans, who lost her husband this year to COVID-19, appreciates the community and help that she sees in the group. 

“You have to get involved,” Chrans said. “It just, it feels good to help these (teachers), because they do so much.”

Ways you can help fund local classrooms:

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Trace Salzbrenner

Trace Salzbrenner is a community journalist for The Wichita Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @RealTraceAlan.