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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Tampa teachers hand-deliver school supplies before the first day of school

A man reaches down to grab colorful backpacks out of a rolling tray on the sidewalk. Behind him, a yellow school bus is parked.
Gabriella Paul
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WUSF Public Media
Joey Fernandez, a physical education teacher, loads backpacks stocked with school supplies into a school bus. Ahead of the first day of school, Wharton High School teachers and faculty distributed over 300 backpacks to about 70 households.

The event helped offset the cost of school supplies for parents and give teachers a window into their students' day-to-day life.

School starts Wednesday in Hillsborough County. And with it — extra expenses for parents.

To help offset back-to-school costs, Wharton High School organized a community outreach event to hand-deliver school supplies to students ahead of the first day of school.

On Monday, around 100 teachers and faculty loaded five school buses with close to 400 backpacks chock-full of supplies: binders, rulers, pens, markers, highlighters and glue sticks.

A red backpack is unzipped. Inside are school supplies, including a water bottle, ruler, highlighters and a binder.
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
A red bookbag is packed with school supplies provided by Wharton High School.

Around 75 households were contacted ahead of time, based on their residence in ZIP codes near two feed-in schools, Belle Witter Elementary and Adams Middle School.

Buses were loaded with around 200 pre-packed bookbags to account for high-schoolers and school-aged siblings at each address.

Principal Michael Rowen said the goals of the day were two-fold.

"One is because our kids need schools supplies," he said through a microphone at the high school cafeteria.

The second: to better understand the home lives of students who bus to the New Tampa campus an hour each way.

Attendance zoning for the high school extends as far south as Busch Gardens, including many north Tampa households.

Nasia Clark-Williams, assistant principal of the high school, said the event was designed to offset the cost of school supplies for parents and give teachers a window into their students' day-to-day life.

Three high school employees stand in the front yard of a Wharton High School student and in front of a yellow school bus.
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
Tommy Tonelli (left to right), Nasia Clark-Williams and Markee Duncan smile together in front of a student's home where they delivered school supplies.

Ahead of the first day of school on Wednesday, Clark-Williams said it's important for teachers to sympathize with the circumstances that might keep a student from being on time and prepared for class.

Jennifer Summers, who heads the high school's English department, said she appreciated feeling closer to the students' perspectives.

"It's nice to start seeing these kids in their own environment," Summers said, adding that many students can't make it to high school aside from taking the school bus.

Onboard the buses, teachers shared their experiences paying for school supplies for their students.

Summers said for the upcoming year, she's used her own money on necessities like Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer.

ESE teacher Stephanie Helton said teachers typically receive around $200 from the state to stock their classrooms year-round. With that, she said, she can afford pencils.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.