Dist. 204 helping parents take back the backpack

Published11/8/2008 12:04 AM

Paper is obviously not a four-letter word, but when you have elementary school children, it seems like it should be.

I remember well the mountain of paper that would descend upon my home every afternoon when the elementary brigade arrived. Permission slips, artwork, returned homework, artwork, class newsletters, artwork, fliers.


Where I'd previously spent much of my "tidying" time fixated on toys, suddenly it seemed no matter how much I tried, the mountain of paper never shrank. Then, invariably, if I needed one of those pieces of paper, it never failed that it had been in the pile I'd finally recycled the day before.

All this came back to me when I read Indian Prairie Unit District 204's announcement about the new e-Folder. The e-Folder is yet another way the schools are (finally!) decreasing the amount of paper junk that enters our homes. Rather than send home the seemingly endless paper announcements of community events, classes and leagues, the district is simply posting them all on its Web site.

Basically, the e-Folder helps families take back the backpack.

Progressively over the years the humble backpack had gone from carrying a few books and papers for schoolwork to acting as a Mack-sized delivery truck for announcements and queries for participants in countless activities.

Could it be that the fliers themselves caused some to switch to backpacks with wheels to drag instead of compromising youthful shoulders?

The e-Folder is the new depository for the hefty number of community fliers that used to come home with the kids once a week or so. (It used to be almost every day, years ago, until they consolidated the fliers into once-a-week piles. We thought that was progress.)

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Last school year, District 204 says, it distributed more than 3 million pieces of paper on behalf of community groups. But a few weeks ago, the district decided to "go green" and send parents an e-mail reminder when fliers were added to the online e-Folder. Ah, yes, better to have green fliers than shoulders turning black and blue from backpack straps.

Not only can you then avoid the waste of paper and added mess topping off the mountain of paperwork on the counter (most of which you don't want anyway), but now you always have an easy and organized place to look for the occasional flier you do want to retrieve. Nirvana.

Add that to the savings of "resources and time required to sort and handle materials," cited by the district, and one wonders why someone didn't consider doing this sooner.

The fuss over fliers has been around for years as the district tried to balance requests from the community to publicize programs and events with the demands on staff time to distribute them, not to mention parents' complaints that they overlook important school documents in the midst of the deluge of unnecessary paper.


Of course, until the one class, program or event the family really wanted to find out about was suddenly not sent home. Like many things, community flier overload has been somewhat of a no-win situation for the district.

I remember when they tried to stem the tide once before by requiring groups to have their fliers approved before distribution. The hue and cry was long and loud, but apparently groups got used to it because the stream of fliers didn't stop.

This seems to be the perfect compromise. Community groups still can publicize their events/programs/clubs while fewer trees are chopped down and fewer after-school paper-overload headaches are induced - not to mention frustrating recycle bin explorations during the search for an elusive registration form.

The e-Folder is easy to access online (check it out at www.ipsd.org and click the e-Folder button in the list on the left). Previous fliers are even kept there for reference.

Parents have been extremely receptive to the idea, many of them thanking the district for the "green" idea, said Janet Buglio, the district's director of communication services. More than 500 new parents subscribed to the district's e-mail news list in the 24 hour period after the district announced the e-Folder program, she said.

The district still requires community groups to get approval to distribute their information. Groups have to be nonprofit and must be either a community/governmental group such as a library or park district, a service organization or a special activity/interest such as an athletic association. Each group can make one request per month and everything advertised must be appropriate for students.

The district requires that fliers include a disclaimer that the district does not endorse the activity and it will not accept fliers that solicit or collect money or pledges.

So in the end, Kermit, it sounds like it is easy being green, at least in this case. Just think, 3 million pieces of paper magically have disappeared from the backpack load.

Now, if we could just do something about those textbooks.

• Joni Hirsch Blackman writes about Naperville some Saturdays in Neighbor. E-mail her at jonihb@aol.com.

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