By Kevin Hart
Poverty doesn’t hide well in the cold. As temperatures drop across the country each, year, it quickly becomes apparent which kids lack the warm clothing and coats they need to endure the chilly fall and winter months.
Teachers and support professionals will tell you that they see these kids each day, shivering at their bus stops or on their walks to school, dressed in nothing more substantial than denim jeans and T-shirts. And for many of these students, being embarrassed in front of their peers stings far worse than the cold.
A lack of warm clothes isn’t just a social issue – it’s an academic issue. As any educator in a high-poverty school will tell you, it’s difficult to meet students’ academic needs before you meet their basic needs, such as food and warmth.
That’s why schools and individual educators spring into action each year, working diligently to ensure their students have the warm clothes and coats they need. During recent discussions on the NEA Priority Schools Campaign and NEA Today Facebook pages, educators discussed the efforts being coordinated in their schools and communities.
Kansas elementary school teacher Debbie Restivo said that each year her school sponsors Project Wrap-Up, where families donate coats, gloves, scarves and hats to ensure all kids have warm clothing. The school also runs a clothing drive, where clothes are donated, washed, and given away to students.
“We do everything we can to ensure that our kids are warm during the winter time,” Restivo said.
New York teacher Dan Bernard has had success using a clothing box in his classroom, where kids could donate coats and other warm clothes for others to take. He said he got the idea from the “give a penny, take a penny” trays at his local corner store.
Some educators create teachable moments by getting students involved in their efforts. Tina Queen, a Missouri middle school teacher, said her school’s students developed a “Hoodies for the Homeless” program, where students and staff are collecting hooded sweatshirts for distribution to homeless kids. Pennsylvania teacher April Wilson Kennedy said her school conducts a penny harvest, where students donate their own pennies and the school uses the money to buy hats, gloves and other warm clothing.
Other educators said they have turned to charitable trusts run by their state NEA affiliates, including the Nebraska State Education Association and Oregon Education Association, for financial assistance to help buy warm clothing for their students.
With the economy still recovering, the need for coats and warm clothes may be greater this year than in past years. Donna Yates Mace said that even in Florida, where she teaches, she and her colleagues have already purchased coats for three students this year, and are fielding more requests.
“This is the first time I have ever had students ask for jackets,” she said.
Photo: Maxwell GS/Flickr