Oct. 19, 2020 – LaWanda Polydore knows that sometimes a clean shirt can determine whether a child succeeds or even attends school.
The principal of Northwestern Legends – and the 2020 Duval Principal of the Year – gives her most recent example: A mother of five children who was worried about choosing between feeding her children versus buying school clothes.
Thankfully, said Polydore, the mother didn’t have to make that choice.
Through a partnership with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), a new clothing closet was constructed on the school’s campus. Equipped with new or gently used donated clothing including school uniforms, socks, shoes and undergarments, the new closet is available five days a week for the more than 300 children at Northwestern Legends and their families.
“We were able to provide the entire family with uniforms, and they started school the next day,” said Polydore.
That family of five is one of about 100 families the clothing closet has helped since it opened at the beginning of the school year.
“It’s just been such a blessing, especially during this pandemic,” Polydore said. “Just to see the smiles on their faces when they receive new uniforms is priceless.”
For JTA leaders, the two months – and more than $2,000 – it took to build the closet was a small price to pay.
“These children and their families are our customers,” said Aleizha Batson, senior manager of Community Relations and Social Responsibility.
Batson points to the location of the school, which sits along one of JTA’s heaviest routes, serving between 1,000 and 2,000 customers a day.
“As a community partner, if you have the opportunity to impact the whole family, it is well worth the investment,” Batson said. “If a family has a challenge, we would like to provide the resources to help. Through our JTA Cares program, we saw the immediate impact professional clothes had on adult’s self-esteem and dignity, and so we want to do the same for these children, who deserve it.”
“This simple act of kindness boosts the children’s self-esteem and self-image which contributes to their academic success and achievement,” said Polydore.
Polydore says she is grateful for the school’s partnership with JTA, which is birthing more than just the clothing closet. The next upcoming project is the school’s first ever Robotics Club; a new venture that JTA is teaming up with the local nonprofit, Renaissance Jax, to create.
Still in development, leaders hope the club will help students develop skills in math, science, literacy and problem-solving as they design and program robots.
“To be exposed to robotics on the elementary level can lead to so many career opportunities for our students, particularly in areas where they may not normally be represented,” said Polydore. “Our Northwestern family is so indebted to JTA and to Renaissance for the opportunities they are giving our children.”
This is a great example of how employers and other organizations can join the Duval County Public Schools success story and support student achievement.