Coverage ideas: Back-to-school supply shopping

It was tough enough to pivot quickly to distance learning in March as nearly every school in the country closed its campus. Many schools struggled to make the remote programs work while students lacked equipment to connect to the internet or to do work. Many families had insufficient bandwidth, or multiple children shared a device. In the months since, the pandemic has also caused a shortage of key parts because production has been slowed or halted, and the tensions on trade with China have further complicated the issue.

Furthermore, reopening schools for in-person classes — or starting via distance learning — meant that the traditional back-to-school supply list of pencils, glue sticks and binders looked different this year.

Focusing questions:

  • What is your school’s plan for ensuring students have access to online components of classes?
  • Did a shortage of equipment affect the plan for teaching and learning?
  • What problems have students experienced? These could include inadequate bandwidth/speed, software incompatibility, shared resources and more.
  • How was back-to-school supply shopping different this year? Did families spend more or less? What was easy or hard to find, and what was just skipped? What were some unexpected items on the list?
  • How did teachers reconsider what was essential and what might be needed in various contingencies?

Possible sources:

Students and families to share their experiences, teachers, school technology director, school budget administrator, managers of retail stores that sell traditional supplies or computer technology equipment

Possible sidebars:

  • Comparison of 2020-21 and 2019-20 supply lists, possibly with prices/amount spent, which could be compared among grade levels as well
  • Shopping list / receipt for expenses for back-to-school supplies
  • Case study: One student’s/family’s experience on shopping and finding (or not finding) needed items
  • Case study: How did students make do with missing, inadequate or shared items?
  • Explainer for the causes of the changes and/or shortages
  • Q&A with school technology director about how the school fulfilled needs, didn’t fulfill needs and/or changed plans to get by
  • Quotation collection: “I always buy ___, but this year I had to buy ___.”

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