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Oregon teachers emphasize need for supplies to help families with distance learning

During the pandemic, teachers say the need for community-donated supplies is greater than ever.

PORTLAND, Ore. — With most students picking up the new school year online this fall, Oregon teachers say the need for community-donated supplies is greater than ever.

"We are having to enter uncharted territories with families," said Ericka Guynes, principal of Earl Boyles Elementary in the David Douglas School District. "We are having to reimagine what the classroom looks like, and basically it's a blank slate."

Guynes said she started teaching nearly 30 years ago to make a difference in children's lives. When the chance came up to become a principal, she knew it was also a chance to include families in the education process. That connection to her school's families took on new importance when kids were sent home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Guynes is worried children won't have what they need this fall.

"It would be like if we were reopening all schools without supplies in them. And how can we do that?" Guynes said.

"It's hard to imagine," agreed Daniel Ramirez, a physical education teacher at Portland Public Schools' Beach Elementary.

He knows PE will be a tough subject for students over video chat.

"There is a such a discrepancy in [what] kids have," Ramirez said. "Whether it's the equipment or just the space."

"Every home is different," Guynes said. "And you want to create not just equal, but equitable access for all of our kids, right?"

Educators like them are reaching out to families in their communities, asking what people will need for successful distance learning. They hope to bridge the gap for families who may not be able to afford necessary school supplies. Supplies not only include pencils and paper, but also computers and webcams for distance learning.

KGW has partnered with Intel and Free Geek for people to donate old technology.

RELATED: Portland companies bridging digital divide through tech and supply drives

Teachers like Ramirez are also brainstorming creative ways for students to stay active at home. He's advocating for portable gym equipment, such as jump ropes and hula hoops.

"The smallest things do help, because then we don't have to use funding that we received for our classes or for our school," Ramirez said, describing PTA grants he usually has to ration to maintain his curricula. 

"If we believe our children are our future, and we want to create equitable classrooms and opportunities for education, then we do need to donate," Guynes said. "We do need to help support families in that way...We need to do it collectively as a community."

Oregonians can join KGW's school supply drive by donating cash online, or at our community partner organizations.

RELATED: The KGW School Supply Drive is going on now!