Lists of needed supplies for each grade level are generated by teachers and made available to parents through a variety of means.
In Berkeley County, W.Va., the process is advanced by personnel in the office of media services.
Amanda Cummings, a summer intern, said the lists of needed supplies are collected from teachers and made available to a number of stores including Wal-Mart, Kmart, Office Max and Martin's Food Market in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Staples in Charles Town, W.Va.
Cummings said those stores post the lists by school so parents can head straight for the list or lists they need for their children.
Carol Tedrick, who manages the stationery department at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hagerstown, said a display will go up in her store this week for those parents who like to get an early start buying their children's school supplies.
"As in past years, I called each school in Washington County before the school year ended in the spring," Tedrick said.
This year, she also asked Washington County Public Schools to send e-mail to all their schools and remind them to send their lists to her.
Since the response is so important to Tedrick as she orders inventory for her store at the Centre at Hagerstown, she took a final step on July 13. She and two others called all the elementary and middle schools to make sure the lists were on the way.
"As far as the high schools are concerned, we traditionally get their lists the day school starts," Tedrick said.
This week, the lists are at the printers. When they arrive at the store, each will be placed in a bin under the name of the school on a display that will be prominently located in the store, Tedrick said.
In her 11 years as manager of the Wal-Mart stationery department, Tedrick said she has learned what works and what doesn't work.
"We used to put the list in binders, but once the word spread, we were finding that we had to have more copies made when we would run out," Tedrick said.
That happened last year and Tedrick is hoping there won't be a repeat this year.
A lot of parents start buying school supplies in mid-July, Tedrick said. That is sometimes because they have more than one child or because they waited too late in years past and found supplies were scarce or non-existent when they got to the stores.
Clear Spring Elementary School Principal Scott Woods said his teachers make sure their lists go out with the final report card in the spring.
"That list is usually 95 percent" of what students in grades one through five will need during the year, Woods said.
The stores also call the school and Woods said he makes sure they get copies of the lists.
"Last year, the PTA tried ordering boxes of supplies and making them available to parents at cost," Woods said.
But when only 30 students out of 400 took advantage of that, it was discontinued in favor of the straight retail approach with the lists.
In the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District, there are no such lists, according to Sue Baker, secretary at Hooverville Elementary School.
"We supply what our students need - paper, pencils, notebooks and whatever else they will need except for a book bag, which the student must provide," Baker said. Parents are not charged for those supplies.
A smaller school district with only four elementary schools, Waynesboro always has done it that way, Baker said.
Larger school systems such as Washington County, with more than two dozen elementary schools and seven middle schools, have turned to the school/parent/store effort.
It is up to the stores, in those cases, to have in stock the supplies that students need.
"There is a lot of extra ordering going on this time of year," Tedrick said. "This is my department's equivalent of Christmas."