When Akbar Cook, the principal of West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey, realized many of his students were missing school or being bullied for not having clean clothes to wear, he did something about it. When school starts on September 4th, there will be a brand new laundry room for students to use - totally free of charge.
Kids who can’t afford to wash their clothes were facing humiliation for coming to school wearing dirty clothes. Students reported seeing classmates snap photos and tag other students on social media for not having anything clean to wear. Cook heard the comments and saw the posts, suspecting that bullying was a top reason 85% of his students chronically missed school.
So two years ago, the principal applied for a grant from a foundation associated with one of Newark’s main utility companies. Cook received $20,000 to turn an old football locker room into a school laundromat, complete with five new washers and dryers. They’ll be available to kids from three to six in the afternoon, at no charge, and there’s plenty of detergent on site, too.
“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,” Cook explains. “My kids are fighters — they just need good ways to fight for themselves, and then take pride in what they can do.”