Really. Hundreds. All in boxes of eight sticks, all wrapped in plastic. All stored neatly on the highest shelves of the art supply room of Spruce Elementary School in South San Francisco. The funny thing is, the teachers there don’t use chalk. They write on their whiteboards with erasable markers.
So why does the school have what might be the Bay Area’s largest stockpile of obsolete chalk? Because no one at the 600-student school has been responsible for cleaning out storage areas and taking inventory.
That all changed last Friday, when 90 volunteers from Gilead and a crackerjack crew from Rebuilding Together descended on the school for an intensive day of high-octane organizing.
With the blessing of Principal Rebecca Vyduna, the volunteers filled the gym with teaching materials, desks, supplies, craft materials and reams and reams of paper. It was an overwhelming sight! And there were just two organizers on site: the very capable Margaret Lukens of New Leaf + Company, and me.
I had to remind myself that a massive organizing job isn’t all that different from a small one, like organizing a drawer. The same principles apply: Empty the space, group like items together, discard/donate surplus and unwanted items, find the right home for items, make sure your supply fits and label the goods once they’re in place.
I also learned fast that tackling an entire school’s worth of stuff is a piece of cake when you have dozens of volunteers to move, haul and sort. Look here for some “before” and “after” pictures, including some shots of the packed gym.
Over the course of several hours, art supplies were carted to the supply room. Copier paper in every color under the sun was hauled to a room off the library near the office and the copier. The room had two walls of sturdy shelving. I suggested that all the 8.5-by-11 paper be stored on the left side of the room, with the reams of white paper closest to the copier. All other sizes would be stored on the right side and sorted by color. I got the OK from Rebecca and from Cynthia Benedetti, the school’s new secretary. A team of volunteers carefully arranged the paper and then labeled the shelves.
What an incredible result! Reams of paper that had been haphazardly stored in supply closets, random side rooms and even a bathroom were now in one place. And Cynthia can do a quick inventory in a glance. Best of all, teachers and administrators know exactly where to go to find paper in any color or size they need.
Margaret worked wonders in the gym. Surplus chairs, tables and materials were neatly stored out of sight but in easily accessible areas. She also oversaw a slew of volunteers, ably guiding them as they sorted, purged and rearranged.
I wasn’t sure we’d be able to empty the gym in one day, but this indefatigable team blew me away. By the time they departed, new basketball nets were swinging from the hoops, planter boxes had received a fresh coat of paint and lively Dr. Seuss adhesive decorations perked up the library’s white walls. Rebecca and Cynthia couldn’t stop grinning.
Neither could I. Using my organizing skills to eliminate waste and chaos makes me feel like a superhero. And feeling so appreciated and essential while on the job was just icing on the cake.
So what happened to the chalk? Like many useful but unneeded supplies, it was set aside for RAFT (Resource Area for Teaching), a Bay Area site that provides materials to local teachers. I’m sure that someone, somewhere, can find a good use for hundreds of boxes of chalk.