A school ran out of paper. The response is warming hearts, and raising questions

“It is not just us. It is every school that requires extra fundraising.”
/ Source: TODAY

An outpouring of support for a school that ran out of paper mid-year is shining a light on the generosity of the local community — as well as the need to address school funding inequities.

During a staff meeting in early February, teachers at a Pittsburgh-area school learned that they were out of a paper for the remainder of the school year. They had already been relying on donated paper, and children received assignments on brightly colored paper or extra long sheets. Administrators told staff they could call local businesses for donations, if they wanted.

Katie Couch, the school counselor, made a few calls but thought there had to be a better way. She fired off a Tweet tagging local businesses for donations. The response she received was overwhelming.

“All of a sudden the local community really pulled together,” Couch told TODAY Parents. “It brought the community together, not only filling the need but also making something happen for the good of the children.”

Staff at Sto-Rox Upper Elementary School feel stunned that so many people donated paper in response to school counselor Katie Couch's tweet. Courtesy of Katie Couch

Sto-Rox is a low income district located just outside of Pittsburgh with 1,400 students in three different schools, lower elementary, upper elementary and high school. All of their students qualify for free breakfast and lunch. Upper Elementary Principal Heather Johnston graduated from the school and worked in the district for more than 20 years. While they’ve always run out of at least one supply during a school year, this was the earliest they faced a deficit.

“This is the first time that we've had the paper shortage. But we've always been lacking something —whether it would be textbooks or the newest technology,” she told TODAY Parents.

Couch had witnessed her frazzled colleagues struggle to find paper for their students and saw how the paper shortage made their jobs so much harder.

“That was an added stress for them,” she said. “Worry about the kids affected the teachers.”

When it became clear that people wanted to help, Couch shared an Amazon wish list. Soon boxes of paper arrived at the school. Some businesses, such as a photographer and a gym, asked their clients to pay with a ream of paper that could be donated to the school. People who graduated from the school decades ago sent paper; supplies arrived from strangers in states as far away as Utah.

Teachers and administors feel touched by the generosity.

“It is just insane,” Johnston said. “It puts into perspective what a special place this is.”

Having access to paper makes work easier for the teachers at Sto-Rox Upper Elementary School. Thanks to budget constraints they had run out of copier paper in early February. Courtesy of Katie Couch

While they feel grateful for all the support, they hope their story helps people consider how they can get involved with their local schools and speak to politicians about funding priorities.

“It is not just us. It is every school that requires extra fundraising, and we need the extra teacher support,” Couch said. “There’s a lot of assumptions, too. People might see out there we have a certain amount of funding and don’t realize the bills that we pay.”

Johnston agrees.

“I hope the word gets out and something gets done with funding inequities in education,” the principal said.

For example, Sto-Rox must devote some of its budget to charter school payments. That and other state-mandated expenses mean that there’s little left for students.

“What we have left is not enough for our kids. So we need to really be creative in the things we do,” Couch said. “Our kids deserve the same (as other students).”

Kim Lyons, a correspondent for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, agrees. "Kids in low-income districts should have access to everything that kids in wealthy districts do," Lyons wrote in an analysis for the nonprofit news site. "It's a societal failure that children don't have enough paper in school... looking just at the outcome of the Sto-Rox paper outage doesn’t push us to question why these economic crises keep happening to vulnerable people and children."

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