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Leanne Waldrop decided to set up closets in schools to help children who couldn't change their clothes, brush their hair or teeth or take care of other hygiene needs before arriving. 

Stephens Elementary School teacher Leanne Waldrop has a mission to address the needs among some of the school’s students in a simple, yet dramatic, way.  

Waldrop, along with other teachers and staff, noticed that some students arrive in the morning without having had the chance to be fully prepared for the day. They may have ended up at a grandmother’s house the night before without a change of clothes, or maybe they were just rushed getting out the door. 

Conceived and implemented last school year, Waldrop’s idea was to create a private place where students with basic hygiene needs could go – without the curious eyes of other children – to brush their teeth, grab clean shirts, use deodorant or to attend to whatever the situation may be. This year, masks and reusable water bottles will be added for students who do not have them. 

Stephens’ faculty decided to designate a closet specifically filled with the items their third and fourth grade students might need. 

“This is my mission project, my passion. I decided to call it the Caring Closet. We put it in the teacher’s lounge, so the children can go into a private bathroom to brush their teeth or take care of personal needs,” Waldrop said. 

The teachers most often identify students who have personal hygiene needs and refer them to the Caring Closet, she said. Waldrop ensures that each child using the closet is assigned a number and an individual plastic box where all of his or her personal items are kept.

“Local businesses have been wonderful to donate items, especially Lee Apparel, who helped us with T-shirts,” said Waldrop.

At Jim Pearson Elementary School, counselors Brittney Kelly and Lisa Harris have tackled the job of stocking necessities for pre-kindergarten through second-grade students.

“I am really proud to be part of a community of teachers and parents who step up when they see a child in need. This year we have a designated area to keep clothing that is sorted by size and season,” Kelly said.

For children at Jim Pearson, the biggest dilemma is possible personal accidents. Teachers also refer students who may have dirty clothes or may have worn the same shirt for several days, and they all work together to solve the problems. 

“We keep a supply of new underwear and socks for our students, just in case they do not have a change of clothes or we can’t reach parents,” Kelly said, “and we keep a drawer of personal items, like toothbrushes and combs, but that is less of a need here with our little ones than at the other two schools.”

Radney Elementary School educates students in grades five and six and depends on school nurse Lynn Moncrief, who says she stays busy in the clinic from the moment the bell rings in the morning until the afternoon when the students leave the building. She is responsible for assessing the aches, pains, scratches and cuts, plus fevers and any other health problems that arise. Sometimes the students require a call home for a parent to pick them up; other times, they just need a kind word and a caring heart to let them know they will feel better soon.

“I want the students to spend as little time out of the classroom as possible, so I try to help them quickly and get them back. I often have students who come to me in the morning with a headache or a stomachache, but the real problem is that they just didn’t get any breakfast. A pack of peanut butter crackers can do the trick,” Moncrief said.

Moncrief plans to supply all teachers with small emergency kits for their classrooms. Each bag will contain Band-Aids, individually wrapped alcohol pads and latex gloves. 

“I also heard about putting a wet sponge in a sandwich bag and keeping it in the freezer for children who might need an ice pack. Teachers could keep them in their freezers, and the sponge could be saved in a clean baggie for the next student who needs it,” Moncrief said. 

Anyone who would like to make donations to the elementary schools could drop off items in the front offices. They do not need big bags of unsorted clothing, but they will take clean clothes in appropriate sizes for the schools. Additional items are listed in the infobox at left. This year, with coronavirus concerns, anti-bacterial items and masks for children are in great demand.

For more information, contact Brittney Kelly (bkelly@acsk12.net) at Jim Pearson for pre-K through second grades; Leanne Waldrop (lwaldrop@asck12.net) at Stephens for third and fourth grades or Lynn Moncrief (lmoncrief@acsk12.net) at Radney for fifth and sixth grades.