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Nome Beltz Math Teacher Helps Students Look and Feel Their Best on Prom Night

Nome Beltz senior Jeremiah Miller browses items at the Prom Closet at Nome Beltz Middle High School. Sarah Swartz photo.

May 3, 2024

Sarah Swartz, News Reporter

Finding the right dress, picking out the perfect shoes, and choosing coordinated corsages and boutonnieres are an annual right of passage for high schoolers attending prom. Kids in rural Alaska however face special challenges getting ready for the big night. An 18 year old might be able to pop into a department store or formal wear boutique in Anchorage, but in Nome, kids often find their attire online through websites like Shein or Amazon. Shipping delays and items that don’t fit also get in the way of the perfect prom look.

Nome-Beltz Middle High School Math Teacher Rosa Wright recognized these unique challenges her students face. She serves as the Junior Class Advisor and saw an opportunity to take her role even further while attending prom two years ago. While there isn’t a strict dress code for prom, she noticed some casually dressed kids entering the fancy affair in t-shirts and sweats. Wright recognized that for a fun night out with friends, a “come as you are” approach was more important than not coming at all.

“We had a couple students that came to prom and didn’t have an outfit, they were hanging out in their sweats. I love that they came, but also just thinking ‘man, I wish I had something to give them’, you know?” Wright said. “I just thought about it and was like ‘OK, how can I make this happen?’”

Wright headed to Facebook to ask for clothing donations and to her surprise, items quickly flooded in. Closets were plucked through and thrift stores raided as people from Anchorage to Nome pitched in. A former resident of Nome now living in the lower 48 even shipped a box filled to the brim after being inspired by Wright’s request. The overwhelming response prompted Wright to create what she calls the Prom Closet.

A sign for the red carpet themed 2024 prom hangs on a pole in the Prom Closet. Sarah Swartz photo.

Wright also uses the Prom Closet to teach students the importance of being eco-conscious. She encourages awareness of what happens to clothing once it’s tossed in the bin with the hopes of saving one-use garments like formal wear from ending up in the landfill.

Preparing for prom every spring has become a big part of Wright’s role as Junior Class Advisor. Throughout the school year, she works side by side with juniors to prepare and raise funds for prom by coordinating events like the annual Junior Class Carnival held in the fall.

As a Nome-Beltz graduate herself, Wright hopes to lead by example. She even thrifted and re-donated her own wedding gown to help a new bride find the perfect dress for her special day.

“Might as well reuse, be less wasteful.” Wright said.

Formal wear for the Prom Closet is stored in a small room adjacent to the art classroom at Nome-Beltz. Students are free to peruse the racks of dress clothing, shoes, and accessories between class periods as well as after school. They’re encouraged to take whatever they want, free of charge. Wright wants students to know that nothing is expected of them in return for using what they find.

“I got it for free, so it’s free to them.” Wright shared.

Nome-Beltz senior Jeremiah Miller likes that the prom closet is available to anyone, allowing his classmates the opportunity to “shop” stress and worry free.

“I’ve been using the prom closet, it is so helpful. Not everything is used, some of it is brand new, never been used or touched at all. So it’s really nice,” Miller said.

While browsing the collection after school, Miller excitedly chose a champagne hued lamé blazer for himself and set aside other items to pass along to his friends.

Items in the closet are available for more than just prom. Costumes are borrowed and used in Nome-Beltz theater productions. Some students from the class of 2024 have chosen items from the Prom Closet to wear for their walk across the graduation stage later this month. The variety and accessibility of the Prom Closet has inspired some students to re-donate clothing and other previously worn items, which will in turn perpetuate the closet’s purpose of providing for others.

The “Red Carpet” themed prom will be held on Saturday, May 4th at the Mini Convention Center in Nome. To donate formal wear, contact Rosa Wright at rwright@nomeschools.org

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