PINE BLUFF, Ark. — The Pine Bluff School District is trying hard to put its students in the best position to succeed. That means helping them in a lot of ways that won’t show up on a report card.
The latest showed up last week in the form of a washer and dryer.
“There are many elements or factors that contribute to student attendance,” Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Owoh said. “And one of the things that we want to make sure is that we really address, as a district, any barrier that may cause our students to not want to come to school. And if it’s as simple as providing laundry services here at the district level, then we wanted to meet that need.”
Owoh said Wednesday that he and two school district social workers, Shun Jackson and Deborah Thomas, began talking on August 23 about the idea of bringing laundry equipment into the district. They decided they would need someone from the community to help pay for it.
“And Mrs. Jackson said, ‘I think I may have someone who is willing to be a partner with us,’” Owoh recalled. “And I kid you not, it was probably two days later and she said she found a partner. And before I knew it, I received an email saying that we had a delivery.”
“My thoughts were, first, I was just thankful,” Jackson said. “Grateful. I couldn’t believe how quickly the response turned around. And it was just wonderful. It was a great feeling because we knew we were going to be able to meet the needs of students. It was a true blessing.”
Doctor’s Orders Pharmacy donated the money for the district to order a brand new, Samsung washer and dryer set, which was delivered to the former Belair Middle School on Friday.
“And that means a lot to our students,” Owoh explained, “to see that the community cares enough to invest, and not just in the instructional part of their educational experience, but also the wrap-around services, the social, emotional, mental parts that they deal with on a daily basis."
“So, it means a lot for us to have community partners such as Doctor’s Orders Pharmacy—and many other partners that we have throughout the city of Pine Bluff—to really invest back into the school district,” he added.
Owoh mentioned that not having clean clothes can affect a student’s self-esteem and focus in class, like the effect of not having enough to eat.
“Mrs. Jackson and Mrs. Thomas also operate a food pantry in the same facility, as well as, they operate a clothes closet,” Owoh said.
The laundry machines are available for use by anyone in the district. The building that used to house Belair Middle School is now occupied partially by an alternative school, run by Arkansas River Education Service Cooperative, and partially by administrative offices. That means fewer people notice who comes and goes.
“We have counselors on our campuses that are going to be sending parents to us,” Thomas explained, “and so they will let us know that they’re coming, and we’ll provide the service by just coming and being very discreet about it.”
“And that was a great idea that Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Jackson had,” Owoh added. “We want to make sure that we provide the services, but also provide and protect the self-esteem, the dignity, protect the dignity of our families so that they’re not coming to a school campus where we have students coming in and out, or other families coming in and out. But no, this place, our Belair center, is more secure. It’s not--it’s private, and it’s a discreet location for the families to come and receive the services that they need and desire.”
Owoh mentioned that the district is considering adding a dental clinic or health clinic to the space in the future.
“We’re going to continue to think outside the box,” he said, “and so, whatever it takes to eliminate any barriers or anything that will cause our students to not achieve their very best, then we’re going to make sure that we address it.”
The district is also considering getting another washer and dryer set for Southwood Elementary School, since it is on the opposite side of the city, making it easier for parents who cannot find transportation to get to Belair.