As families purchase items for back-to-school, they're not just asked to buy pencils and paper anymore.

Many of the school lists detailing required supplies include items to be shared with the entire classroom.

For example, second-graders at Fargo's Hawthorne Elementary are asked to bring either a box of two-gallon freezer bags or two large boxes of tissues, depending on their last name, as well as four dry-erase markers.

"There certainly has been an increase in supplies, but there is also an increase in supply costs for schools that hasn't been met," said Chris Triggs, principal at Fargo's Madison Elementary.

For example, he said, dry-erase boards are a relatively new tool in classrooms and the cost of markers needs to be covered.

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Consumers will spend an average of $81.83 on school supplies this year, a National Retail Federation survey shows. Total back-to-school expenses, including clothing and shoes, will add up to $443.77 on average.

For families in need, the increasing cost of school supplies can be a burden.

Many go without food or skip paying an electric bill to afford school supplies for their school-age children, said John Nelson, principal of Fargo's Ben Franklin Middle School.

Others will send their children to school with broken crayons, torn backpacks or no supplies, he said. This can affect their productivity and readiness to learn.

Cass and Clay County families in need can receive a set of school supplies from the United Way, which kicked off its annual school supply drive Wednesday

"When a child enters school with these supplies, their self-worth and self-esteem is much improved," said Nelson, who is also chairman of the United Way board.

Items like backpacks, markers, notebooks, pens, folders and crayons will be collected through Aug. 13 at the United Way office, West Acres Shopping Center, the Moorhead Center Mall and Wal-Mart.

Cash donations are accepted at United Way.

Backpacks are filled with grade-appropriate supplies. Families can receive a backpack by calling (701) 237-5050. Distribution will be Aug. 13.

More than $60,000 in supplies was given out to 2,500 children in 2004.

Nelson said more than 6,000 families receive free- or reduced-price lunches, so many more could benefit from the back-to-school drive.

The backpacks are filled with basic supplies, so not every item on the classroom supply list is included.

"Honestly, you find in a lot of elementary schools where the teachers really help out of their own pocket," Nelson said. "I see a lot of people that step up and try to help these students who don't have the same things the other kids have the first day."

School starts Aug. 25 in Fargo and Aug. 29 in West Fargo. Moorhead schools begin classes Sept. 6.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525