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Back to School: Janesville family prepares for beginning of school year

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Nick Crow
August 22, 2014

JANESVILLE— Sarah Schoulte walked into Wal-Mart with her daughter, son and stepson on a mission: to finish buying school supplies as quickly and cheaply as possible.

“The list is smaller this year,” Schoulte said, as the kids began grabbing what they could find on the shelves. “Last year and the year before was kind of outrageous. This year it's better.”

Schoulte said Wilson Elementary School moved some items such as facial tissue and hand sanitizer from the list of required items to the list of things optional, which she thinks helps families.

“Part of me wonders if it isn't to help those who can't afford it,” Schoulte said. “There are a lot of families at the school who are low income.”

According to figures from the Janesville School District, Wilson Elementary has the highest percentage of low-income students in the district at 90 percent.

Kim Ehrhardt, director of instructional services for the district, said each school creates its own supply list based on goals and programs.

"They do that in concert with the principal each spring," Ehrhardt said. "Usually sometime in May."

Supply lists are similar between schools, Ehrhardt said. Students whose families can't afford supplies are provided them through various public and private campaigns and contributions.

"No child is left without supplies," Ehrhardt said.

Schoulte predicted as she walked into the store that she would spend $20.

“Fortunately, we have some of the stuff at home already,” Schoulte said.

Her total was $61.95.

“Kleenex is one thing I won't argue with, though,” Schoulte said as her son Aiden threw a five-pack of tissues into the cart. “There are a lot of germs that float around the classroom.”

Back to school drives $8.6 billion in spending each fall, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

An exchange between Schoulte and her daughter Isabel, who will be in kindergarten this year, illustrates the potential struggles for parents during back-to-school time.

“What is this?” Isabel asked as she picked up a random package.

“Those are beads,” Schoulte answered.

“I need these beads,” Isabel responded.

Despite the difficulty, Schoulte said she wouldn't go back-to-school shopping without the kids.

“They like to help out,” Schoulte said. “They're involved in something. It's something they can do for themselves. They would be disappointed if they didn't get to pick out their own stuff.”

The family has lived in Janesville for more than three years. In December, they will be moving to Whidbey Island, Washington, because Schoulte's husband is being sent to the U.S. Naval Air Station there.

Schoulte said she is both excited and sad to see her kids begin school this year.

“Yes and no, to be honest,” Schoulte said. “I don't know what I'll do with my time, now. It's hectic, but once you get into a routine, it's nice. Once it starts, you get into a routine of getting them up and going, and then it's easy.”

In the end, Schoulte said this year's school shopping experience wasn't too stressful.

“If we would have come later in the day and had to get everything on the list at once, it would have been a different story,” Schoulte said.

As they left the store, her son had one final question.

“What treat do we get for getting all our stuff?” Aiden asked.

Schoulte laughed and shook her head as she loaded the car as her kids rummaged through the bags to look at their supplies.

School begins for all Janesville public school students Tuesday, Sept. 2.



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