Middle school can be a trying time for students as they transition from a child, to a pre-teen, to a teenager. Not only are their minds developing, but their bodies are as well. Occasionally, students are not prepared for the changes they may experience, maybe they are growing too quickly, or they have a mishap and feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Ripley Middle School is addressing those issues by providing their students with the Viking Closet. The Viking Closet is a room filled with everything from clothing and shoes to school supplies and toiletries.

School counselor, Susan Jones, began the Viking Closet in a small space in the corner of her office. With the help of local organizations and willing student volunteers, the Viking Closet has grown from that small space into a room totally dedicated and private for students to “shop.”

“My main goal as a school counselor is to help students be successful academically and socially.” Jones said. “We need them to be in class and focused to learn. If they’ve violated the dress code, or if they’ve had a mishap and they’re uncomfortable or embarrassed, our Viking Closet helps them get what they need and back to class quickly.”

Jones said the Viking Closet is available to anyone at anytime. She said it is also beneficial to parents.

“Parents don’t have to leave work and there’s no lost instructional time while students wait,” Jones said. “If a student forgot their PE shoes, they can borrow them from the Viking Closet. If they are cold, we have hoodies. If they forgot to put on their deodorant, we have that too. Again, the purpose is to have all students in class learning.”

According to Jones, the Viking Closet serves other purposes as well.

“Sometimes kids have outgrown their clothes or shoes, or a new student enrolls who has nothing Viking blue to wear. The Viking Closet helps those students fit in socially,” Jones said. “We keep toiletries, feminine hygiene products, and shower supplies for kids who need them. In addition, we house binders, paper, folders, etc. so students can be properly organized for class.”

Jones admits that she would not be able to keep the closet going by herself. She credits the community, parents, and student volunteers for their hard work and assistance.

“Kaycee McCoy and Emily King came in one day over the summer and helped get it up and running for this year,” Jones said.

For nearly two years, Syvanna Swisher, Evelyn Crooks, and Abbigail Burdette, now eighth graders, have spent every lunch and recess maintaining the Viking Closet. They sort and organize all of the clothing and supplies and let Jones know when items are running low.

“We label everything so it’s easy for them to figure out where things are,” Swisher said.

According to Crooks, she enjoys her time in the Viking Closet because it gets her out of recess, which she feels is boring. Another thing she likes is being able to help people.

Burdette said she likes working in the Viking Closet because it’s quiet. She likes to organize the items and it makes her feel good to help others.

Students are able to keep the items they need from the closet; however, some items are reusable and may be returned when no longer needed.

“We encourage all of our middle schoolers to ‘pay it forward’ by donating their own gently used items,” Jones said.

They also have two pageant girls who donate “privacy pouches” as part of their pageant platforms, Jones said. Privacy Pouches contain feminine hygiene products and can be taken by students who need them. The pouch allows the girls to carry the needed items in a way that makes them feel more comfortable, by allowing them a certain amount of privacy.

Items that Jones said are needed the most are binders and backpacks on the school supply side and leggings, on the clothing end.

“We even have new underwear and socks,” Jones added. “But, leggings are by far the biggest need.”

According to Jones, community support and donations from local churches and organizations, such as Calvary United Methodist, Epworth United Methodist, First Presbyterian, Goldtown Community Church, Living Water, Parchment Valley Conference Center, Parchment Valley Baptist, Ripley Church of Christ, Ripley Rotary, and Victory Church, have kept the Viking Closet stocked with all necessary supplies.

“We are blessed to have awesome community support,” Jones said. “And, we have such a thoughtful superintendent; he goes shopping for us! He’ll bring in a large Kohl’s bag of new clothes, coats, belts, and socks several times a year that we quickly put to good use.”

To Jones and the student volunteers who help with the Viking Closet, it is more than just a room filled with stuff, it’s a way to keep students focused on learning while feeling confident and comfortable at the same time.

As Swisher said, “It’s just nice to see them with a happy face.”