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Program Helps Baltimore County Teachers Have What They Need To Return To Classrooms

Credit John Lee
Debbie Phelps, Executive Director of the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools briefs teachers at the Exchangeree in White Marsh.

Mays Chapel Elementary School art teacher Meaghan O’Reilly is filling her shopping bag at the Exchangeree on THE AVENUE at White Marsh. She is getting some basic supplies, but she needs more than usual.

“I have these materials in my classroom,” O’Reilly said. “But being that we are really not able to share materials very easily, if a student forgets a pair of scissors, I can give them a pair. I don’t have to take it, sanitize it, they can have it for their classroom and bring it back and forth.”

Christina Montgomery, who teaches kindergarten at Mays Chapel, picked up a 10-pack of child-size face masks.

“Because they’re going to be excited,” Montgomery said. “And they’re going to talk a lot. And their masks are going to get wet and soiled. We’re just going to need some spares around.”

Some Baltimore County teachers who are returning to their classrooms for the first time in nearly a year this week, need not just pen and paper, but masks and sanitizers.

The Exchangeree helps teachers bridge the gap between what the school system provides and what teachers shell out of their own pockets for their students.

Its two locations in White Marsh and Windsor Mill are run by theBaltimore County Schools’ Education Foundation, a non-profit that provides support for teachers and students. It also offers grants and scholarships.

The Windsor Mill location opened in 2018. The White Marsh store opened last fall.

On this day at the White Marsh Exchangeree, the foundation’s executive director, Debbie Phelps, is showing the teachers from Mays Chapel the lay of the land.

Phelps told the teachers, “It’s like being in Nordstrom’s. Just not high heels or jewelry.”

Another way it’s not like Nordstrom: everything is free.

The Exchangeree runs on donated money and supplies. Items are stored in bins that are organized based on how things will be used. What teachers can use at their desks are in red bins. Supplies for students are in green bins and so on.

Educators make appointments to come shop. Once there, they can browse around and pick things out.

During online learning, the basic needs have remained the same, according to Phelps, like the kindergarten teacher she knows who has a student with no paper at home.

Phelps said, “So, the teacher will say, ‘well, bring an envelope from the mail. You’ve got to bring something to write on.’ Now, that’s crazy. But that’s true.”

Teachers have dropped off supplies from the Exchangeree at students’ homes or arranged pickups at their schools.

Baltimore County is phasing in twice weekly in person learning, starting this week. Children in pre-kindergarten through the 2nd grade and students at the county’s four schools for the disabled are returning first.

Lori Counsell, a school counselor at Mays Chapel, said she was looking for things she can use to help students make the adjustment back to the classroom.

“There is going to be a lot of new routines and a lot of new expectations that we’ve got to teach,” Counsell said. “Our first two weeks is really going to be focused on that.”

Angela McGinnis is a 5th grade teacher at Mays Chapel. Her students can come back the week of April 6.

“I’m trying to stock up on as many, like, sets of pencil cases, just so that everyone has their own individual thing at their own table,” McGinnis said. “The things that I can make individualized for each of them that they can have their own little box of education fun.”

The Exchangeree estimates it has handed out nearly $300,000 worth of supplies through January of this school year.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2