BLADENBORO — A button-down shirt with a bow tie, a dress or skirt neatly pressed, and shined shoes — not the kind of fare that one usually associates with the public school system. On certain days, however, and at certain places — Bladenboro Middle School, for example — certain students don the attire as part of an effort to prepare for success.
Bladenboro Middle School Media Coordinator Nicole Kinlaw, with the help of Principal Randi Harrelson, began the Lady Bulldog Academy a few months ago after she couldn’t shake an impression.
“I saw a post on Facebook about a teacher who was doing this sort of thing with elementary kids,” Kinlaw stated. “I saw it months and months ago, but it stuck with me and kept weighing on my heart and mind.”
The idea was to create a organization that would teach and train students about things like attitude, business etiquette, and making good choices. Students who joined would “dress for success” on the day of the meeting, including shirt and tie for males and a dress, skirt or slacks for females. Guest speakers would be invited to aid in training at weekly meetings.
The Bulldog Academy got underway earlier this year with about 25 male students, who met and received training by the likes of law enforcement, army personnel, and Bladen County Supt. Robert Taylor. Guests spoke about topics such as putting forth one’s best effort, proper handshakes, and knotting a tie. The young men wrapped up their year by celebrating with the members of the Young Men’s Academy, a similar program that started around the same time at Elizabethtown Middle School.
The Lady Bulldog Academy was a little slower in getting started, and the 25 young ladies have had two meetings thus far. Kinlaw said she is hoping to get in two more before the school year ends. Young ladies have learned about manners and health and nutrition.
“The kids are enjoying it,” Kinlaw said, “and they really look forward to the meeting days. I think they enjoy it because they stand out from their peers, and they get attention from teachers who tell them how nice they look.”
She added, “There’s nothing greater than when a kid comes in, and their parents have bought them a new shirt, and they say, ‘Look! I got a new shirt and tie!’ or ‘I got a new vest!’ They feel so proud, and that’s what it’s all about — building up their self-confidence.”
Not only has the effort gotten the students — males and females alike — excited, but at least one parent is thrilled with the results as well.
“A parent of one of the young men came up to me and said that she couldn’t believe the difference she’s seen in her child since he started — he’s willing to help out more at home, and he lays out his clothes every week to make sure he’s ready for the next meeting,” Kinlaw said, obviously excited herself that the effort is paying off.
Word is spreading about the program and its success, and people, as they often do, are jumping on board to help with a worthy cause.
One such donor, a woman from Southport, saw a post on Facebook about the Academy, took up a donation at work, and mailed 12 ties to the school. Kinlaw reported that she can give out 10 to 12 shirts or six or seven ties in a day, in part because she takes the clothes home, washes them, and brings them back for the next meeting.
“My office at school looks like a closet,” Kinlaw joked.
As for all of the work, “If we can see improvement in just one, it’s worth it,” she said.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.