One teacher climbed out a window to escape the gunman. Another is still nursing bullet wounds. Many of them have since been told they’d find it too disturbing to even go back inside to fetch their belongings.
But after surviving the horrific mass shooting in May that killed 21 people and injured 17 more, teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas now find themselves in another unenviable—but all too common—position: asking for donations simply to buy necessary supplies for the upcoming academic year.
“I am the STEM teacher for Robb Elementary school,” one educator’s Amazon Wish List reads. “...This year, because of the tragedy in my building, I was displaced. I at the moment, do not have my class materials, and I still do not know where my class will be at my temporary school. I am creating this list to provide the best learning environment for my kids… Please help me continue giving them the education they deserve.”
In Uvalde, teachers from Robb Elementary have posted public requests on Amazon for items such as pencils, markers, desk organizers, scissors, bulletin boards, wall calendars, globes, crayons, construction paper, and books. Classes, which start again on August 15, will be held for now at other schools in the area as Robb Elementary is torn down and replaced by a memorial.
“My name is Jennieka Rodriguez and I am heading into my fourth year of teaching and we will be transitioning from Robb to Flores temporarily,” reads a second teacher’s public page. “It will be an adjustment, but we as teachers and students are flexible. Therefore, we will make the best of the situation and embrace it. Thank you in advance for your generosity and prayers.”
“I am [a] 2nd grade teacher at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas,” says a third. “After the tragedy, my goal this year is to focus on creating a calming and inviting atmosphere for my second graders at our new campus. Thank you so much for your generosity, these items will be well-loved by the sweetest kids!!”
One Robb Elementary teacher who lived through the shocking massacre and is now soliciting assistance with supplies, told The Daily Beast that she needs to replace some of the things that were damaged during the shooting.
“Then also, the condition of the rooms—we were told it would be better for us not to go in there and have to revisit all of that, so they’re being packed up by other staff and transferred to our [temporary] campus,” said the teacher, who asked not to be identified by name so as to avoid confrontation with school administrators. “I spent all this money getting things ready for [last year], got a small library going, I bought current, relevant reading material for them. The school provides what they can, but you really need to augment that with your own.”
She said she has no idea what was salvageable and wasn’t, and won’t know what made it out of Robb in one piece until school is again in session.
In a normal year, the teacher said she spends about $1,000 of her own money on classroom items. She does her best to keep students engaged and energized with games, visual aids, and prizes for an assignment well done. This year, she is trying to create “a fun, inviting learning environment for [the kids], and just make them feel comfortable… because we know it’s going to be a struggle for them to come back.”
“We are asked to do so much, and… what the district supplies doesn’t exactly fulfill that,” the teacher continued. “It is very frustrating for teachers in this day and age… The amount of effort and work I put into this, I could be making thousands of dollars more somewhere else. But this is my passion, my calling.”
Fourth-grade math and science teacher Mercedes Salas, whose classroom was directly opposite the one in which alleged gunman Salvador Ramos gunned down his terrified victims, has taught at Robb Elementary for 11 years. Since the tragedy, Salas has had trouble sleeping and is unable to get the events of that day out of her mind. Her longtime colleague Elsa Avila, who Salas described on Monday as more like a family member, was shot twice.
But because Avila is still laid up during her recovery, Salas said she duplicated her own wish list and posted it to Amazon for Avila a few days ago.
“She’s one of my closest friends, she was my mentor when I started working many years ago,” Salas told The Daily Beast. “We’re not just like coworkers. I call her my sister. So when she asked me if I could do it for her, I said I’d just double whatever I had [on my own list].”
Salas, whose list includes things like stickers and paper lanterns but also felt-tip pens and an electric pencil sharpener, said she’s not bothered by having to solicit donations or spend her own money on supplies, because every public entity inevitably faces some degree of budgetary difficulty. She said she gets the necessities and would rather the local authorities prioritize “our kiddos’ books and all that” instead of any extras to help spruce up their classrooms.
So far, Salas said she has received “a few” of the items on her wish list. On the other hand, Nicole Ogburn, a 4th-grade teacher at Robb Elementary who cheated death by escaping through a classroom window, said everything on her wish list had already been taken care of by donors.
“And I know a couple of other teachers who have had their whole lists purchased for them too,” Ogburn told The Daily Beast.
Ogburn said she and her colleagues “spend lots of money” each year to create a pleasant learning atmosphere for the kids. Everyday supplies are normally not an issue, but Ogburn said many teachers augment what’s provided with books of their own, creating small, purpose-built libraries.
She makes various purchases throughout the year, and gladly accepts hand-me-downs from former teachers.
In a nationwide survey conducted last year of 5,400 K-12 teachers, 95 percent said their classroom supply budgets were insufficient to meet their students’ needs. Nearly every teacher who responded to a 2018 questionnaire funded by the U.S. Department of Education and updated in 2021 reported spending an average of $478 of their own money on classroom supplies. More than nine out of 10 are not reimbursed, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Mark Di Carlo, a lawyer in Corpus Christi who is representing several victims’ families in civil suits against the school district, told The Daily Beast on Monday that he was in Uvalde last month. From his perspective, the city somehow has ample funds to station “numerous [police] vehicles and $100,000 SUVs” outside the empty Robb Elementary.
Further, Uvalde is “utilizing our tax money to hire law firms,” he said, pointing to Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin’s recent decision to hire a private law firm in an attempt to block the release of public records related to the shooting.
But while the situation may be far from ideal, Ogburn said that authorities in Uvalde do a better job of supplying teachers with necessities than some other places.
“I do know teachers at other schools in other districts who say, ‘They don’t give us anything,’” she said.
Hal Harrell, superintendent for the Uvalde Consolidated School District, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.