Pandemic-related paper shortage poses challenge

As costs skyrocket, teachers adapt instruction


CJ Bourbeau

Algonquin has had a paper shortage for the past few weeks.

Sophia Murray, News Editor

In recent weeks, students and teachers have adapted to challenges arising from a nation-wide paper shortage that has decreased availability and increased costs of paper. 

As a result of the pandemic, the cost of paper across the country has dramatically increased, and the availability of copy paper has plummeted. Director of Finance for the Northborough Southborough Public School District Rebecca Pellegrino explains that the issue dates back to the beginning of the pandemic.

“It is my understanding that at the height of the pandemic, the demand for copy paper plummeted, and as a result, many of the paper mills either shut down or converted to corrugated paper,” Pellegrino said. “As the demand has ramped up, those mills have chosen not to revert back to regular paper because of the cost that’s involved. The mills that are in operation are experiencing staff shortages, and there is also a shortage of paper pulp.”

In June of 2021, the cost of one case of paper was just over $25. According to Pellegrino, the district is now paying more than $44 per case of paper. That is a 59% increase in the cost of paper—a direct result of the shortage—which could grow even more as time goes on. 

“We are actually being told that over the next few months, prices are only expected to increase as a result of all of these factors,” Pellegrino said. 

According to Pellegrino, the public schools in Northborough and Southborough are not alone in this experience, as the shortage is affecting schools all over the country. 

“It’s my understanding that this is a nation-wide issue,” Pellegrino said. “We’ve done a lot of research trying to find paper from other suppliers, and the costs have exploded for all of the various vendors that are available.”

The district itself has very little control over how and when paper will be readily available again, but it has been collaborating with companies such as W.B. Mason in order to supply paper to the schools. On Feb. 10, 160 cases of paper were delivered to the school. 

Principal Sean Bevan is empathetic towards teachers who have had to adapt their lesson plans in order to accommodate the paper shortage, and he appreciates everyone’s cooperation.

I know that there have been many different obstacles we have had to overcome over the past two years, and a paper shortage is not one that we could have foreseen, so I just really appreciate that everyone is pitching in and willing to do what it takes so that the district can conserve [paper].”

— Rebecca Pellegrino, Director of Finance

“It’s almost entirely how teachers’ instruction is heavily reliant on paper,” Bevan said. “A lot of it simply falls to teachers to, yet again, adjust their instruction, as they have been used to in the last two years. This is yet another impact of COVID, and yet another time when our teachers, who are already working very hard, are being asked to be innovative and flexible and understanding.”

Some teachers and students have been impacted by the shortage differently than others. Lauren Hesemeyer, who teaches Geometry at the College Prep level, thinks it has been challenging to accommodate the lack of paper. 

“Since I teach Geometry (CP), which requires a lot of visual math like diagrams, it has really become a tough decision as to whether I decide to print my homework packets or not print my homework packets, just because if we decided to have everyone hand-write everything, it would take twice as long for us to get through a lesson,” Hesemeyer said. 

Despite these challenges, Hesemeyer is grateful for online resources, which she discovered during the period of digital learning, as they have helped her keep her classroom running smoothly and reduce her paper usage. 

“I am trying to save paper on any in-class activities that I do, so I use websites online like Classkick, Blooket, Kahoot and things like that,” Hesemeyer said. 

The English department has also had to adapt to the paper shortage, but according to English Department Head Jane Betar, considerable effects on students’ learning have yet to become an issue.

“It hasn’t had a significant effect because we grew so accustomed to digital learning,” Betar said. “However, some of our grade level groups have been taking a step back and working more diligently with annotation, and I think this is when print copies of text are really necessary. Then again, there are even ways around that.”

Similarly to Hesemeyer, Betar appreciates how well the period of digital learning has prepared students and teachers for the shortage. 

“Because of digital learning and our quick shift to digital life, teachers aren’t as concerned,” Betar said. 

The district is unaware of when the issue will be solved, but Bevan looks forward to positive changes that will be integrated within the coming months that may ease the stress of the shortage. 

“I think we’re all just very hopeful that several things are going to change over the next couple of months,” Bevan said. “The mask change has happened, and I think the weather will improve, so people will be able to spend more time outside, which students certainly enjoy. I think there’s going to be a lot of changes, and this will be yet another one we are going to have to adapt to.”

While the district continues to work with distributors and the public schools, Pellegrino appreciates the patience and cooperation teachers and students have shown.

“I’m just thankful that people are being patient and that they’re understanding that this is outside of the district’s control,” Pellegrino said. “I know that there have been many different obstacles we have had to overcome over the past two years, and a paper shortage is not one that we could have foreseen, so I just really appreciate that everyone is pitching in and willing to do what it takes so that the district can conserve [paper].”

As the shortage continues, Bevan hopes people will continue to persevere and cooperate in order to minimize the effects and solve the issue. 

“I have an appreciation for this as a challenge for teachers,” Bevan said. “Like anything else related to COVID, it will take time and we will get past it, but in the meantime, it’s going to be tough.”