On Aug. 8, I received this Facebook message from Susan Valverde, a close friend who lives in McAllen but is the chief franchise operations officer for Sylvan Learning’s corporate offices in Maryland:
“Hey Chris – are you familiar with clear the list Texas? It is an effort to help teachers with their back-to-school supplies list and has gained a lot of traction. A teacher can set up an Amazon wish list and share it on social media, allowing donors all over the world to help with supplies for their classrooms. I am trying to find Valley teachers who need supplies and it’s hard to fish out. Thanks!!”
I had not heard about it, so I began to search. I quickly find the movement, started by third-year teacher Courtney Jones, is referred to as #clearthelists. It began to help teachers who face the overwhelming expense of classroom supplies and limited funding.
Bringing #clearthelists local
I could not find a #clearthelists Facebook page for teachers in the Valley, so I set one up: Clearthelists RGV – Supporting Teachers and Students in the RGV. Immediately, Valley teachers saw the page and began creating their Amazon classroom wish lists. Teachers who are technologically savvy soon figured out how to prioritize items on their lists and how to have the items sent directly to their home addresses on Amazon without making them public. The list operates like an online wedding or baby registry.
Three Valley teachers, Letty Macias (second grade), Karen Aguirre (kindergarten) and Belinda Trevino (first grade) wasted no time posting their lists. All three work at Perez Elementary in McAllen.
Macias was the first teacher to post on the new page. She started tagging others and contacting owners of small businesses in the Valley who might want to help. One week later, she received a coveted electric pencil sharpener.
“I feel my students are my responsibility,” Macias said. “Parents often ask, ‘How can I help? What do you need?’ But I feel badly because I know they have their own kids. This gives me an opportunity to allow others to help.”
Trevino received an Amazon gift card shortly after posting her list. It was from Valverde.
“She doesn’t even know me,” Trevino, a mother of six, said. “She included a note that read, ‘I wanted to help you. Thank you for all you do for our kids.’ It got me so excited. When I first posted, I wondered how anyone would see me in this ocean of teachers asking for help.”
“These are OUR kids.”
“In the Valley, we rally around things like this,” Valverde said. “A Department of Education study reports that 95 percent of teachers buy their own school supplies, regardless of demographics.” (The study also showed teachers in schools with a high number of students living in poverty likely spend even more. According to the RGV FOCUS 2018 Annual Report, 32 percent of students in the Rio Grande Valley live below the poverty threshold, compared to 16 percent in the state.)
“That’s just not right,” Valverde added. “We are so under-resourced in our classrooms in the Valley, and yet we want our kids to compete.” She hopes to see more teachers placing items on their lists that require higher-order thinking skills.
An unexpected package awaited Aguirre when she arrived home her first week back to work. Inside she found a play cash register she knows her new kindergarteners will love. The note inside read, “Hi Karen, When I was younger, I would have loved this toy the most haha From Amy Booth.” Booth is a CPA at Burton McCumber & Longoria in McAllen.
#Clearthelists RGV allows the community to come together to support the work of our teachers and allows our teachers to ask for the help they need in a fun way.
“These are OUR kids. OUR kids,” Valverde said. “They are not the teachers’ only, and they are not the districts’ only.”
“I like the fact that this bring people together for a positive reason,” Trevino said. “Teachers can get stuck in the negativity — pay, unrealistic expectations, budgets — but why complain and point fingers? With this, we are all helping each other.”
“Yes,” Aguirre added. “We’re all coming together.”