School isn’t easy, and when children and teens are struggling at home, they have it even tougher at school. While many children have plenty to eat, warm beds to sleep in, and clean clothes to wear each day, many others don’t.
One principal noticed that some of the students at his school in Newark, New Jersey, were being bullied because they had on dirty clothes.
Principal Akbar Cook even watched as a teen girl refused to have her bag searched and put up a fight when the police were called. He explained:
“The police later told me she had dirty clothes in her bag because she was homeless and didn’t want anyone to know. She was fighting for her pride.”
He knew he needed to do something to help these kids.
While he couldn’t save them from their situations, he could help them manage their lives better and deal with the obstacles they were facing. He decided to put a free laundry room in the school.
The kids can use the laundry room to wash their own clothes. This way, they can be clean even if they don’t have a washer or dryer at home or a home at all. It’s making a huge difference in the lives of these students. One student talked about the bullying, saying:
“I’ve seen a few kids in the back of the class talk about one of the people in front of the class and how they smelled and how their clothes looked dirty.”
Cook had heard kids talking and even seen them tag other kids on social media, bullying them online and making fun of them for wearing dirty clothes or smelling bad.
He suspended the bullies and then got the idea for the laundry room. He also found out that the reason 85 percent of kids miss school is because of bullying. He added:
“These are kids, good kids who want to learn, that are missing three to five days a month because they were being bullied because they were dirty. I even changed the school uniform to darker colors so they could go more days without cleaning them, but even with that, students were struggling to have them look clean enough to attend.”
Once people started learning about the laundry room, they wanted to help.
The school received a lot of donations and even opened an Amazon Wish List where people can donate the items they need or want.
Nicole Daniel, the school’s operating assistant, said:
“As the story has spread, we have been receiving packages of detergent at the school and through our Amazon Wish List page.”
Daniel has helped students with their hygiene in the past.
When students would complain of bullying or problems with their clothes, she would do the best she could. It wasn’t always easy, but she found a way to help the students feel better about themselves. She said:
“Many times, the students may come in because they’re embarrassed, they don’t look the same, somebody’s complaining about a body odor. I would say, ‘OK, baby, then we’re going to have to do it the old way.’ We have soap, we have water. But now with this laundry room, we don’t have to do that.”
While this is just one of many struggles that these students deal with, they still face many others.
Still, Cook hopes that he can help build up the confidence in these kids and teach them to persevere. The laundry room doesn’t solve their problems, but it gives them a way to deal with them. For most of them, that is all they need. They aren’t looking for a handout, just some help. Cook added:
“We are trying to teach them to navigate their pride. My kids are fighters – they just need good ways to fight for themselves, and then take pride in what they can do.”
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