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Magnolia Middle School dedicates Care Closet for students and families in need

Bernard Hennigan, executive director of student support services for Harford County Public Schools, looks around Magnolia Middle School's Care Closet following a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday. The closet is used to store supplies for Magnolia students in need, as well as their families.
Bernard Hennigan, executive director of student support services for Harford County Public Schools, looks around Magnolia Middle School's Care Closet following a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday. The closet is used to store supplies for Magnolia students in need, as well as their families. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Magnolia Middle School students, as well as members of their families, who need supplies for school or personal care at home can visit Magnolia’s Care Closet, a repository for items donated by school staff and the community.

The Care Closet has been in use throughout the current year at the Joppa-area school. Magnolia students, staff and administrators, plus community supporters, celebrated the initiative with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning.

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Principal Laurie Namey, who delivered opening remarks, said the idea originated from two sets of people. The first was the school counselor, Karen Honecker, who has spent 30 years at Magnolia Middle and dreamed of developing a place on campus where students could obtain items they needed. The second source was the school’s administrative team, which gathered over the summer to discuss their “mission and vision” for the year.

Administrators “shared our wildest dreams, one of which was to be sure that barriers that were in the way of our students’ success” were removed by all members of the school staff, Namey said.

“Here we stand today, about to make one of our wildest dreams become a reality,” she added.

The school chorus performed for the guests at the ceremony, and Namey then invited the guests to join her and her staff in the lobby for Magnolia’s daily “full-on dance party” to welcome students as they enter the building.

Namey stood outside to greet students as they got off their buses, and staff and administrators danced in the lobby as several pop songs played on the public address system.

“We believe that where there is great love there is great hope, and we hope you get to feel the Magnolia love today,” Namey told the guests.

Eric Davis, chief of administration for Harford County Public Schools, said “we can’t do enough initiatives like this” Care Closet in the school system.

Davis, in his remarks, discussed a photo taken of him when he was in third grade. The picture shows a child “happy on the outside but slowly dying on the inside.”

“For about three months, the outfit that I had on in that picture, I was wearing that same outfit every single day,” Davis said.

He noted that is the case for other children, who show the world a happy face that hides the difficulties they and their families are dealing with, difficulties that can be alleviated with initiatives such as the Care Closet.

“It’s amazing, and you are truly making a difference because you are showing students and families that you love them,” Davis said.

Economic challenges at home affect how a student performs in school — Mijiza Green, a paraeducator and mentor, recalled working with one Magnolia student known for being an “angry student” and a “troubled child.”

Green said she asked the boy what was wrong and learned that his shoes were falling apart and other students would make fun of him. Green said she would tape up the students’ shoes and color the tape with black magic marker so it would blend with the black shoes.

“Finally I went to the community and said, ‘I need some help,’” Green recalled.

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She said that boy’s story is one of many similar ones among Magnolia students, and that educators must “deal with the whole child” to help them achieve academically.

“We have children in this school who cannot learn because of life circumstances,” Green said. “This [Care Closet] is just a small portion to help them to achieve and be successful.”

The closet is filled with multiple items, many of them donated by Magnolia faculty and staff. They include school supplies, hygiene products, clothes, shoes, jackets, toys, even some household appliances, according to Shanice Hackley, the school social worker.

“Prior to today, I’ve been a witness to the impact this care closet can make for our students and their families,” Hackley said.

She said she has seen students’ confidence boosted by obtaining “a few pencils and a binder,” that having lotion or deodorant available before or after gym class is “heaven sent,” that she has seen pick out a pair of shoes for herself then seen a pair of heels her mother would love. Hackley also said she recently saw a boy search through bins of household items to find the ideal Christmas gift for his family.

“All of these things, no matter small, have the power to change a thought that can change a behavior, which can change a person for the better,” Hackley said.

Members of the community are encouraged to make donations, and the closet is open to any student or their family. Brothers and sisters in the respective Harford County chapters of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and Delta Sigma Theta sorority were on hand Friday for the celebration and brought items to donate, including school supplies and cold weather clothing.

“You can’t expect children to learn if they don’t have their basic needs covered, so this is a step in addressing the whole child and everything that they need for academic success,” Kira Sconion, president of the DST sorority chapter, said.

Four students shared their experiences of being in need or knowing other students in need and how that affects academic success.

“With over 841 of us enrolled here, I can tell you each of us has a story,” seventh-grader Destiney Blakney said. “Some are stories of grit and valor, others include struggles.”

Eighth-grader Nabre Henderson said students’ stories do not start when they enter school, but “they begin every morning at home with our families; it starts with getting out of bed, if we have one.”

The story becomes complicated when youths must pick out their clothes for the day, Nabre said.

“This part of our morning can determine our attitude, focus and self-esteem for the entire school day, week or even year,” eighth-grader Anthony Hopson said.

Emily Brock, another eighth-grader, noted more than 18,000 people in Harford County live below the poverty line. She said she knows Magnolia students who “have a much more difficult story than others.”

“I can personally say that the students at Magnolia Middle will benefit from the Care Closet, and we are deeply appreciative of all your support,” Emily told audience members.

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