There are two types of people in this world. People who love school supplies and people who don’t. As a former teacher and parent to four school-aged children, I find myself stuck in between these two worlds in a love/hate relationship with school supplies.

On one hand, the advent of school supply season means my kids will be heading back to school soon (yay!). On the other hand, it means I will be spending hundreds of dollars outfitting them with the tools necessary to succeed and learn. And, while I may have more children than the average family in Thurston County, I don’t think I am unusual in lamenting the big bite out of the budget back-to-school shopping represents for my family.

For those attending Madison Elementary School on the east side of Olympia this fall, however, back to school supply shopping was much less of a chore and expense than usual. This was due to a unique program called Adopt-A-Grade.

Madison Elementary
The financial support from nearby faith communities and other organizations enabled Madison Elementary teachers to buy the exact supplies they needed for their classrooms.

The program was conceived of three years ago when a community member approached Madison Elementary’s principal, Domenico Spatola-Knoll, and asked how they might help the school community. The principal suggested they “adopt” a grade level and purchase school supplies for that group of students. Adopt-A-Grade was born and that first year, the kindergartners of Madison did not have to purchase back-to-school supplies.

And, the word spread. Incredibly, this year, nearby churches and community organizations covered the cost of back to school supplies for all of Madison’s 250 students.

Spatola-Knoll was quick to point out that most of the sponsors in the Adopt-A-Grade project already had a connection to Madison and have supported the school community in the past. First United Methodist Church of Olympia (second grade sponsor), Reality Church (kindergarten sponsor), and New Bridge Community Church (fourth and fifth grade sponsor) are all close neighbors to Madison Elementary and have supported the school community over the years. Additionally, the Rotary Club of Olympia and an anonymous sponsor supplied donations for the first and third grade students.

Madison elementary
Parishioners from First United Methodist Church of Olympia celebrate the school supply donations with Madison’s principal, Domenico Spatola-Knoll.

Kindergarten parent Allison Bezanson saw the donations from the community as an opportunity to teach her two young daughters about how people can come together and support one another. The Bezanson family used the money saved on school supplies to purchase donations for another neighborhood school.

The Wickman family of Olympia also appreciated the opportunity that the Adopt-A-Grade provided. Tara Wickman, mother of Madison Elementary kindergartner Ella Wickman, shared that, “the Adopt-A-Grade program at Madison Elementary was such an amazing gift to our school and community. Back-to-school shopping can be stressful for so many reasons and this took that all away. Teachers got to order exactly what they needed and no child was left feeling like they were different. For so many families, it was a great financial relief and for others it meant they had more to give to others in need.”

Madison elementary supplies
It takes a lot of school supplies to power an entire elementary school!

While the program is novel in the Olympia area, but is quickly gaining attention. Principal Spatola-Knoll has received inquiries and support about the program from places as far as New York and Europe. At least one east coast school district is currently looking at the possibility of replicating this program district-wide.

The Madison Elementary community has high hopes that the Adopt-A-Grade program will continue to bring relief and unity to their community for years to come. Principal Spatola-Knoll is looking to fine tune parts of the program next year, and perhaps invite community members and families to help with finding the best back-to-school bargains in order to help teachers make the best use of each donation dollar​.

And, while small changes may improve the program’s efficiency, it will be hard to improve upon the outpouring of student and school support exemplified by this amazing local effort.

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