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Shelter Island families get set for school as Labor Day weekend approaches

Although outfitting children for school may be less formal than in decades past, the hard fact is that children have spent the summer growing and will likely need new shoes and clothes as they head back to the classroom.

Add to that the need for books and other supplies, and parents may lose whatever chill they enjoyed in July and August as they face the sticker shock of September.

Island parents are hitting the stores in Riverhead or ordering online this week, hoping to find what they need at discount prices. Alexandra Binder is getting her sons Garrett and Hudson ready to start Pre-K 4 and 1st grade, respectively.

“I prefer to go in-person because I’m a nerd and love office/school supplies,” she said. “Even though Garrett wasn’t attending school yet he was allowed to pick out the same supplies as Hudson each year for the past two years, so it will be exciting for him to have his own list of items to get. And I always get one new notebook for myself to take part in the fun!”

For families already struggling to make ends meet, the local community service program, CAST, has stepped up to help. Recently, backpacks and school supplies were handed out along with food items at the CAST food pantry van on the Island.

For college students, it’s not just a wardrobe and a set of expensive textbooks, but it’s become commonplace to send students off with a set of appliances that could outfit a small house. Kathleen Carey, 18, has assembled her equipment, including a mini-fridge and coffeemaker.

Her experiences spending summers on the Island, along with attending a high school marine biology program near her home in Connecticut, has led her to major in environmental studies when she begins at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. this week. Like most Island teens, she has spent her summers working. After attending Time Travelers Camp at the Shelter Island Historical Society, she’s worked for the Society every summer.

Her sister Bridget, 16, staffed the Islander food truck at Crescent Beach all summer, earning enough to purchase a Mac Book she has always wanted. “I figured out the date I would need to order it by and saved up my money until then,” she said. “It was such a rewarding feeling.”

When she returns to school, she’ll also be stepping into the role of president of the school’s Best Buddies club, which pairs students with intellectual and mental disabilities with other young people. “It has such a positive impact on the students who get involved, as well as the students with special needs,” she said. “My own buddy is 10 times better than me at so many things,” she said, “like playing the piano, singing — and his penmanship is way better than mine.”

Kate Rossi-Snook asked her son, Oscar, how he felt about starting 4th grade at Shelter Island School. His response: “I’ve got a feeling: Excited.”

Returning to a consistent schoolday schedule is welcomed by Ms. Rossi-Snook and her husband, Tim Sheehan, both of whom work full time off-Island, in industries that are demanding during the summer months. 

“Piecing together camp offerings and kid transportation feels impossible at times,” she said. “We are grateful for our network of close friends — more like family, really  as we all support each other, chipping in and trading off tending to the collective kid pack. It’s the Shelter Island way, as one friend’s mom told me, and it would be a real struggle without it.

“Of course it isn’t just excitement for the school day schedule, we also share Oscar’s excitement for starting in a new grade. It’s so rewarding as a parent to see your child develop and grow as they are given new opportunities and challenges — that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

Now about that back-to- school sticker-shock: According to the annual survey by the National Retail Federation, back-to-school spending is expected to reach an unparalleled $41.5 billion, up from $36.9 billion last year and the previous high of $37.1 billion in 2021. Back-to-college spending is expected to hit $94 billion, about $20 billion more than last year’s record.

Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $890 on back-to-school items this year, approximately $25 more than last year’s record of $864 and a new high.

College students and their families are expected to spend an average of $1,199 per person, up from $1,367 last year, and a new record from the previous record of $1,200 in 2021. Since 2019, back-to-college spending has nearly doubled.

This increase in expected spending is primarily driven by more demand for electronics, since 69% of back-to-school shoppers expect to buy electronics or other computer-related accessories this year, up from 65% last year and the highest in the survey’s history.

Total spending on electronics is expected to reach a record $15.2 billion. As in past years, the top electronics consumers plan to purchase are laptops (51%), tablets (36%) and calculators (29%).