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Students were bullied if they had dirty clothes — so this school got laundry machines

West Side High School in Newark, N.J., bought washing machines for its students after learning that some were choosing to stay home rather than be bullied for wearing smelly or dirty clothes to class.
West Side High School in Newark, N.J., bought washing machines for its students after learning that some were choosing to stay home rather than be bullied for wearing smelly or dirty clothes to class. NJ.com Video/Screenshot

Many people might take having a clean set of clothes every day for granted. But for some students at a New Jersey high school, bullying over unwashed uniforms was enough to make them stay home from class, CNN reported.

“They (were) being bullied, and it wasn’t just like in the building. It was on Snapchat. I’m sitting behind you and take a picture of your collar. Look at this dirty guy,” Akbar Cook, principal of West Side High School in Newark, told CBS New York.

At first, staff members weren’t aware of the true scope of the problem, NJ.com reported. Officials realized how prevalent the bullying was when they began calling home to see why students weren’t in class, Cook told the site.

He decided something had to change. The solution? A full laundry room available to students at school.

It came from a $20,000 grant from Public Service Enterprise Group Foundation, PIX11 reported, which allowed the school to buy laundry machines and driers for the students.

“We take things for granted that are easy for us. (Cook) doesn’t. You want everyone to succeed, especially young people. He finds those places where success doesn’t happen and he figures out why and he goes after it,” Ellen Lambert, former president of the foundation, told NJ.com.

“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,” social worker Jamila Hammond told CBS New York.

The room is free for students between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., with an attendant on duty to keep an eye on things and pass out supplies, CNN reported.

Students can also work on STEM projects with a teacher in a next-door “makerspace,” PIX11 reported.

“I think it’s a good way to give people confidence that there is someone who actually cares about them and is willing to help them out,” a student told the station.

Newark schools Superintendent Robert Leon told NJ.com Cook’s drive to complete the project was “evidence of what happens when passion meets progress for our students.”

Cook told CNN community members who had heard about the project began donating detergent and other supplies so the “West Side Laundromat” could always be fully stocked. To make it easier, he created an Amazon wish list.

A fifth-grader from Plaistow, New Hampshire made an emotional appeal to the Timberlane School Board to help put a stop to bullying.

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