School supply requirements give new meaning to ‘Packers’

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann for The Review

It’s not hard to tell that fall is in the air. Now you might think it’s the leaves beginning to turn, or maybe V-shaped flocks of geese winging their way south, or perhaps nights that occasionally dip into the lower 50’s.

It’s none of these, its backpacks. That right backpacks!

You might ask what have backpacks to do with autumn. If you do ask this question it is very clear that you do not have children of school age.

It seems that backpacks are now absolutely essential for a child to return to school in the fall. Living not far from James Madison I have had ample opportunity to watch as little tykes trudged off to school in past years, staggering under the weight of a backpack that would have made a polar explorer shudder.

But getting back to the backpack, it is now the first sign of the approach of fall. Somewhere around the first of August you can walk into any retail store in the area, or any area for that matter, and encounter huge displays of backpacks. A sure sign of the approach of autumn and the start of the school year.

I began to wonder just what do kids carry in these mysterious pieces of school equipment. In walking through one of our large retail stores recently I came across a tower like display that had a large number of slots in it, and each slot was labeled with a school name, and grade, and in the slots was a list of the items the students were required to bring to class.

I pulled several of them out and I was amazed. I doubt if the paratroopers that jumped into Normandy on D-Day in WWII carried as many items as are on these lists.

Our schools here in Sheboygan ask their students to bring no less than 24 different items. Included in this list are, a box of Kleenex (250 count), 12 #2 pencils, scissors, glue, 2 red pens, crayons, colored pencils and 4 AAA batteries in their original package, just to mentioned a few of the items on the list.

There are lists from Cedar Grove, Plymouth, and Sheboygan Falls as well as Sheboygan and all other schools in the area, all requiring students to bring a similar array of items.

Also included in the list is clothing, such as swim suits, gym shoes, towels and on and on. Education sure has changed over the years, one would certainly hope for the better. Is it any wonder that backpacks are so necessary for a child to return to school?

How well I remember returning back to school in the fall. All summer long maintenance crews had cleaned, and polished and varnished the floors and woodwork until the school sparkled (Jefferson School in my case).

Then there was that tension filled night before you went back, when you really didn’t sleep too well. There was always a certain amount of tension; would you like your new teacher, were your friends going to be in your class? When the clock rang that first morning of school I was already awake.

Each year, if my dad could afford it, I got a new pair of pants, new shoes and maybe a new shirt. But of course these clothes were just for school, and as soon as you got home you had to take them off at once.

Also there were strict orders not to hoarse around on the playground during recess and get our clothes dirty or, heaven forbid, tear them or scuff up your new shoes.

As for school supplies, it seems to me the school furnished them. I do recall taking a pencil or two, maybe an eraser and a notebook but little else, certainly nothing I needed a backpack for.

There was no school lunch program; my school lunch program was at home. We were dismissed at 12:00 PM and had to return by 1:00 PM. During that hour we walked home and back to school, after eating lunch at home. People seemed to think it was their responsibility to feed their children, not the schools.

Even though we dreaded going back to school after a summer of fun, it was in a way exciting. The classrooms all smelled of fresh varnish and seemed so bright and new.

In those early days of fall on warm days the teachers would open the large windows that lined one wall of the class room, but only from the top.

She would use a specially made pole with a metal hook on the end that fit into a round hole on the window casing and fresh air would fill the room. Then, as the classroom settled down, the school year began.

If anyone has any comments or suggestions for future columns please feel free to contact me, Bill Wangemann at 920-458-2974 or email me at

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