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“Tools For Schools” Program Helps Alachua County Teachers Get Ready For School Year

Westwood Middle School Teacher Aaron Garlock goes to Tools for Schools every month. With so many students, he runs out of school supplies quickly. But, for the past four years Garlock has been getting the supplies he needs from the Alachua County’s Tools for Schools program center.

Tools for Schools is a partnership between the Alachua County Board of Commissioners and the Alachua County Public Schools. The program offers a place for teachers to receive learning materials at no cost.

Garlock said he has been working as a teacher in Alachua County for five years, and he heard about the program through a veteran teacher.

“She brought me here for the first time,” Garlock said. “It was really useful for me as a new teacher.”

The program is having its annual school drive. The drive started July 10 and is running until July 22.

For this year’s school drive, the donation-based program has 31 bins in different locations around the county where people can go to drop off their donations.

Shelley Samec, Alachua County Solid Waste and Resource Recovery waste alternatives specialist and Tools for Schools supervisor, said that Tools for Schools’ main goal, besides helping teachers, is to take things out of the landfill.

“We want people to be helping clean out their houses,” Samec said. “We are hoping to divert things from going to the landfill.”

Samec also said the all-year-round program works to provide supplies to teachers in all cities of Alachua County with the help of a mobile unit.

During the school year, every Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. they take the mobile unit to teachers living in rural areas.

“Works like a food truck, we fill it with all the school supplies that we can,” Samec said. “The teachers can come to us, so they don’t have to come all the way to Gainesville.”

The program, however, has a main center located at 1147 SE 7th Ave., Gainesville, FL 32641.

Marianne McDowell, Tools for Schools volunteer and retired teacher, said this is a wonderful program because in her own experience she knows that teachers spend more than $1,000 a year out of pocket on their classrooms.

“I came here every month, got supplies. A lot of times when I didn’t have a lot of money (I was a single mom), I would come in to get supplies for my classroom,” McDowell said.

Tools for Schools has been helping teachers and students since 2004.

Even though Tools for Schools policies only allow teachers to get school supplies once a month, at the main center they can spin a wheel to win a prize or get an opportunity to come twice a month to the center.

Garlock said he always tells teachers about the program, and he has himself brought new teachers to the center.

“The teachers could use as much support with supplies as possible,” Garlock said.  “Teachers can never have enough supplies.”

The program will be having a back-to-school week right before classes start.

During this week, teachers will be able to get their schools supplies from the Tools for Schools mobile unit that will be visiting smaller cities twice a day.