Anna Fox is no stranger to back to school shopping.
Walking from aisle to aisle in the school supplies section, Fox filled her basket with items on the shopping list. Fox was shopping for two children in the Hastings school district, one in elementary school and the other in middle school.
Back-to-school shopping can be fun for the kids, Fox said. But for the parents, it can get a little frustrating. Some of the items on a school supply list might be very specific or the store might run out.
Then there is the price tag.
"It can be spendy, it's surprising," Fox said.
The cost for school supplies added up to more than $50 per student, according to a RiverTown Multimedia survey of area school districts. In some cases, the cost of the supplies added up to over $100 per student. Districts surveyed include Plum City, Spring Valley, Ellsworth, New Richmond, Somerset, River Falls and St. Croix Central in Wisconsin, and Hastings and South Washington County in Minnesota.
Common items on the lists included pencils, spiral notebooks, colored pencils, markers, loose leaf paper and more. The most expensive items on the lists were headphones, specific calculators and physical education gear. Many of the lists didn't even include common school items like backpacks or lunch boxes.
The eighth-grade school supply list in Spring Valley added up to about $120.60. Some of the more expensive items on that list included stretchable book covers, a backpack, non-marking tennis shoes and other clothing items for physical education. The eighth-graders going to school in Ellsworth were not far behind with their list adding up to $114.
Even the Minnesota Department of Revenue acknowledged the added expense of back-to-school shopping for Minnesota families. The department released a statement at the end of July reminding parents to save their receipts because most school supplies could qualify for K-12 tax benefits on 2017 Minnesota income tax returns.
Angie Branum has a daughter going into fifth grade at Greenwood Elementary in River Falls. She said that she spent about $60 on school supplies for this year, but she already had some of the staple items like a backpack, lunch box, shoes and clothes. Her experience with back-to-school shopping is typically uneventful but every now and then there are items on the list that are unavailable in a quantity that makes sense or not detailed enough.
"One year I couldn't find the specific brand of disinfecting wipes requested, even after looking at several stores," she said.
This year, Branum said that she had a hard time with the six fine-tip black dry erase markers. She could only find them in a 12 pack. However, for the most part she enjoys back to school supply shopping which is often associated with a special lunch or dinner out with her daughter.
Several school supply lists across the region include items that might be more geared toward stocking the classroom rather than what one student will need. Lists included items like tissues, paper plates, ziploc bags, baby wipes and even a cash donation for the class.
Fox said that she understands why some of those items are included in back to school shopping. Her children have allergies so she knows they are using Kleenexes and even contemplates bringing in extra boxes.
However, she said that she understands the need to include those items because "otherwise I think what happens is the teachers end up having to supply it and I don't think that should have to come out of their pocket."
Amy Sutton has an 11-year-old and 13-year-old of her own. They attend middle school in the Rosemount, Minn. district. She said that they still had several school items leftover from last year, including backpacks, but when she took them supply shopping she still spent an easy $120.
"It's costly, but if we don't step up the teachers get hit with it," she said.
Sutton said that she knows anything she invests in the classroom benefits her children and their learning so she is willing to help with some of the classroom expense.
With the high cost of school supplies, not every family can afford to purchase all the necessary items. That is why many districts have a program or community effort to support students whose families may not be able to pay for items they will need.
Jennifer Stieve is the mother of a fourth-grader and a kindergartener in the South Washington County Schools.
"(I think) that it's important to make sure that every student feels ready to start school with all the supplies they need," Stieve said.
That is why, in addition to her own supplies shopping, Stieve supports the school supply drive organized by the school district. She said that it is something easy for people to do that will help local kids.
Community members can donate items to the supply drive by taking their donations to the District Service Center in Cottage Grove 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Across the river, The Sharing Tree provides supplies to students in order to help them succeed in their classrooms. The organization serves students in Hudson and Somerset school districts. This year, the program assisted 311 students in the Hudson and Somerset areas.
Cindy Leonard, the director and co-founder of The Sharing Tree, said young students are the future and that is one of the reasons it is important to help out.
"If we can get our students properly prepared with the tools they need to succeed in the classroom, it can take them anywhere," Leonard said.
Although the school supplies distribution has already taken place this year, Leonard said that The Sharing Tree is a year-round program. The best way to help out at this time of year is through monetary donations. For more information about The Sharing Tree, visit www.thesharingtree.org.
Hastings Family Service also has a program that provides a back to school supply service each year. The program helped about 320 students last year. Amy Sutton, associate director at Hastings Family Service, said that for a family who is already struggling, the added cost of back to school supplies could put them over the edge.
"We want every child in the community to go back to school just like their peers ready to learn," Sutton said.
In addition to supplying school items, HFS does their best to make the whole experience fun for kids. The students walk into HFS and get to pick out their backpacks, pencils, binders and other items on the list. There is even an ice cream machine provided by Tony and Phyllis Reilly so that kids can enjoy ice cream cones after they have selected their supplies.
"Ice cream is always a great way to wrap things up," Sutton said.
For more information about how to donate to HFS or to make an appointment to receive school supply assistance, visit www.hastingsfamilyservice.org/school-supply-asssistance.html.