'Care closets' make schools welcoming spaces

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The closing plenary session gave TEACH participants a chance to learn more about an innovative, union-crafted effort in Baltimore to make sure that health and dignity are part of every student's school day.

The program is called Care Closets, which was described by Lisa Calicchia, dean of curriculum and instruction at Arundel Elementary and Middle School, one of five Baltimore community schools currently involved in the effort. She explained how the Baltimore Teachers Union collaborated with the community school site coordinators to stock "care closets" at each school with personal hygiene products available on the First Book Marketplace. This provides essential items such as deodorant, soap, toothbrushes and more for students and families in need.

Lisa Calicchia

"For homeless students and those in transitional housing, these care closets have been a lifesaver," said Calicchia, who emphasized that students can use these items without sacrificing their dignity.

"The closets are set up in inconspicuous spots, and all the teachers know about the closets and can direct students who need these items to them without causing embarrassment or digging into their own pockets to provide these items for their students."

The initial five closets have been a hit, and the BTU hopes to expand this innovative strategy and create care closets in more Baltimore schools, Calicchia said. And the program has an added bonus: More AFT members are discovering that they can look to First Book not only for high-quality, diverse books but also for schools supplies, hygiene items, and even socks and winter coats on the First Book Marketplace.

It's just one of the innovative ways that AFT members are working in partnership with the community "to make our schools welcoming spaces for all students and their families."

[Mike Rose]