Akbar Cook TheGrio
Newark, N.J., principal Akbar Cook has a fresh approach to bullying. (Screenshot via ABC 7)

A Newark, N.J., high school principal is going the extra mile to support his students who are being bullied—and the community is embracing his actions.

Akbar Cook, principal of the city’s West Side High School, has installed a laundry room for students that he says were being teased and chastised because they were showing up to school in dirty school uniforms. Some of these students were becoming chronic absentees—missing three to five days of school per month—out of shame, Cook told ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

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One student did not want school staffers to check her bags because she was homeless and embarrassed she was carrying dirty clothes with her, Cook told ABC 7.

Other students could not afford to do their laundry, he told NJ.com.

The young people were being bullied to the extent that mean-spirited classmates posted photos of them in dirty collars or stained pants on social media, NJ.com writes.

“They were choosing to stay home rather than coming to school to be bullied or ridiculed,” Cook told NJ.com.

Some sleuthing revealed why the students were avoiding school, he said.

“We didn’t know until we started making calls,” Cook told NJ.com.

Cook shared this situation with the MCJ Amelior Foundation, which has adopted the school and pays for some of its programs. The PSEG Foundation was present during that conversation and provided a $20,000 grant to pay for the five washing machines and five dryers, as well as renovation advice, NJ.com reported.

The community has responded with vigor, donating laundry detergents and dryer sheets so that students facing challenges can do their laundry at school for free.

Cook cleared out the football team to create the laundry room, which will be open Monday, and Friday, ABC 7 reported. A teacher in an adjacent room will help students with school work while they wash their clothes.

Student Kalim Harvey-Belcher, 16, told NJ.com that he missed a few days of school last year because his school uniform was not as clean as it could be.

“With the laundromat, it’ll be a benefit to students because they’re still getting their education and they’re getting their clothes cleaned,” he said. “You can come to school smelling like Tide every day.”

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