In a day and age where education stakes seem higher than ever before, a school principal decided to give his students a fighting chance by helping meet basic needs.
In Newark, New Jersey, Akbar Cook is the principal of West Side High School. Some of his students are from lower socio-economic demographics, and can’t even focus on their studies appropriately as they’re concerned with basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing.
Such was the case for a student who fought with school security guards when they tried to look through her bag. Cook said that she fought them because she had dirty clothes in her bag and she was embarrassed because she was homeless.
Cook decided that no student of his would have to suffer the humiliation that comes with dirty clothes, particularly for his homeless students who he says often get made fun of because their clothes are dirty or smell. As of the first day of this new school year, students will have access to a free laundromat.
Cook says that he would see students in the hallways, often the butt of jokes because of their dirty or smelly clothes, and he said he was aware of students who would take pictures of those students and then post them on social media to embarrass them. He believes this bullying is the reason that nearly 85% of his students had chronically poor attendance records.
The principal said that his students are good kids who want to learn. He’d already changed the uniform to darker colors to help his students go longer periods before having to wash them, but that didn’t solve the smell issue.
Two years ago, he applied for a grant that would turn an old football locker room into a school laundromat, and now, $20,000 later, the renovations are done and the school is home to five washers, five dryers, and detergent that has been donated from all over the country.
Nicole Daniel is the school’s operating assistant and said that the school’s Amazon wish list has helped them stock their laundry room with supplies that any student who needs to has access to, no questions asked. The list also includes basic hygiene products like deodorant and soap for his students as well. The students are able to use the laundromat from 3:00 pm-6:00 pm and an adult is always present to oversee the room and to help students with life-skills and independence.
Cook said the laundromat isn’t just meeting a basic need for clean clothing, but one of helping them to have pride in themselves and what they can do.
Imagine that — helping kids ‘learn’ by helping make sure their needs for the most basic of things, including self-dignity, are met. Novel concept.
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