Students struggling in the classroom may not be doing so because they don’t understand the material. For some, it may be because they are worried if the person next to them can tell they have not showered or brushed their teeth.

Pine Tree High School science teacher Ashley Martell is trying to change that with the Pirate Treasure Closet.

The program offers free hygiene products such as deodorant, shampoo, pads and tampons, razors, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap and other items for students who may not be able to afford them.

If a teacher sees a need in a student, the teacher can either contact Martell or visit the closet and pull the student aside to give him or her the products to avoid embarrassment.

The idea originated this summer, she said, and some of the materials she bought or were donated. Martell approached her church, Grace Creek in Longview, and volunteers donated items and packed 76 boxes in September.

Martell said some people may have a perception that Pine Tree ISD is more affluent and does not have students with such needs.

“We get all kinds of different kids, we get all levels of kids. There’s definitely a need in all the schools, not just our school,” she said. “That’s why several schools around East Texas have started doing this kind of stuff, because they’re noticing our kids aren’t getting their basic needs met so they’re struggling to pass the (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test.”

Teachers develop relationships with their students that help them identify student needs, Martell said.

“They might tell you, ‘I don’t have any supplies,’ “ she said. “Usually, if they don’t have any supplies, it’s because they’re not getting basic needs met elsewhere also.”

Students are more likely to take the supplies from a teacher they trust versus seek out and ask a counselor, Martell said.

“We’re trying to fill the gap. Without this being filled, they’re not going to learn,” she said. “I’m not going to be able to pay their electric bill, but maybe I can help them with this basic stuff. Maybe they’ll be more apt to focus and learn vocabulary that day or something like that, which in the end will help them graduate and be successful. That is our hope.”