Teachers Stacey McBreairty, left, and Lisa Moore, center, carry donated school supplies into Mill Stream Elementary School on Thursday in Norridgewock. John Moore, right, also helps carry supplies. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

NORRIDGEWOCK — Students at Mill Stream Elementary next week will be equipped with school supplies with the help of residents and businesses from Norridgewock, Mercer and Smithfield.

John Malek, chairman of the Norridgewock’s Tax Increment Financing committee, hands Barbara Welch, a teacher at Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock, donated school supplies Thursday at the school. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Each town has spent the last two-and-a-half weeks collecting supplies and monetary donations from local businesses and community members. The idea originated with the Tax Increment Financing committee in Norridgewock, whose members were looking for ways to make the back-to-school transition easier on families and students.

“They can’t use TIF money for something like this, so they decided to take on the project themselves,” Norridgewock Town Manager Richard LaBelle said. “They put up flyers, reached out to businesses and residents in Norridgewock, Mercer and Smithfield and had an overwhelming amount of support in terms of what we’ve brought in for school supplies and the financial contributions on top of that.”

Mill Stream educates just over 300 students from the towns of Mercer, Norridgewock and Smithfield in grades prekindergarten through six.

On Thursday morning, members of the TIF committee met at the school to deliver the donations. Each student will receive pencils, glue sticks, erasers, colored pencils, one-subject notebooks, crayons, scissors, markers, whiteboard markers and a plastic pencil box on the first day of school. Students working remotely will also be given supplies.

Additionally, LaBelle said, leftover money from donations is being used to provide each teacher in the school a $50 gift card to purchase other supplies that may be needed. A limited supply of backpacks were also given to the school, which will be distributed as needed. Riverview Memorial School, a private school in town, will also receive supplies as well as personal protective equipment.

Each town office is continuing to accept donations in the coming weeks in case teachers run out of supplies and need replenishments.

“We are very appreciative of the communities’ generosity,” Julie Kimball, principal at Mill Stream, said Thursday. “It’s absolutely amazing given the times. It’s difficult for everyone, and for our community to really step up and do this for our kids … we’re just so excited to have our kids back.”

Looking ahead at the upcoming school year, which begins next week in the Skowhegan-area school district, Kimball said that she and her staff are looking forward to welcoming their students back and establishing a routine with them again.

“The routine has been the biggest thing that’s been missed on top of the friendships and bond that our kids have with their teachers,” Kimball said. “We’re really looking forward to having them back to rebuild the relationships and welcome them back into our community and hope that we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Donated school supplies are carried into Mill Stream Elementary School on Thursday in Norridgewock. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The pandemic, she added, has also made them look at education from a new perspective.

“This is brand new territory for us,” she said. “This is making us look at our educational system in a very different way and how we can best support the whole child. Not just the academics, but the social and emotional piece as well.”

Also included in purchases were individual toys for students to use on the playgrounds and camping chairs, which will have the names of teachers placed on each one to allow staff to eat their lunch outdoors, LaBelle said. Recesses will be held outdoors, but each group will be separated to a different spot outside.

“It’s important to realize in the age of COVID-19 that these supplies are not only needed for the first day of school,” Michelle Taylor, president of the parent teacher committee, said. “We are also trying to put these together in the event that if we have to go back to a hybrid learning plan, all kids will be on the same playing field.”

LaBelle reiterated that supplies will continue to be collected at each town office in coming weeks and encourages community members to grab supplies at stores during their shopping excursions.

“If they’re in the store and the limit on the product is two (per person) and they don’t need it, grab the two and we’ll take it for the school,” he said.

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