As a mom of 3-year-old twins, I feel like I am constantly swimming in laundry. Some days, I feel like it’s not even possible for me to catch up on all the laundry my family produces, and the chore itself feels like a giant thorn in my side. It hadn’t occurred to me in all my grumbling though that being able to do my children’s laundry (even begrudgingly) was a privilege many other parents don’t actually have — and that the reality of not having clean clothes or access to laundry facilities is something that keeps far too many American kids from attending school regularly.
But with some help from an innovative new program by Whirlpool, school administrators across the country have found that solving the complicated issue of student attendance in low-income areas might actually have a surprisingly simple solution: Give students a way to wash and dry their clothes, and they will come to school.
According to TODAY Parents, the Whirlpool Care Counts program provided 17 schools in low-income areas with a washing machine and dryer each, along with all the necessary items: laundry bags, garbage bags, detergent and fabric softener. Those schools then chose a group of students who had each missed more than 10 days of school to bring their clothes and have them washed while they sat in class. It might not seem like the promise of clean laundry would be a big motivator to attend school and pay attention, but not only did the program work, it worked really, really well.
Out of all the children who participated in the program, 93% of them increased their attendance rates in the first year, according to the Whirlpool Care Counts website. In fact, Whirlpool reported that, “at-risk participants attended almost two more weeks of school than the previous year,” with the average number of days missed dropping from 11.9 to only 3.5.
But sheer attendance numbers alone weren’t the only things that improved significantly. Teachers at participating schools reported an 89% increase in classroom participation, 95% increase in students’ motivation, and a 95% increase in extra-curricular activities. During the first year, each student washed an average of 50 loads of laundry at school using the Whirlpool machines.
Why would a program like this be so incredibly effective at reaching at-risk kids? A number of the participants explained that not having clean clothes was both stressful and embarrassing. As fourth-grader Vanessa explained to Whirlpool, realizing she didn’t have any clothes to wear to school when she woke up in the morning would normally lead her to staying home completely. Having the option to have her clothes washed at school, on the other hand, changed that entirely.
“Having the washer and dryer at the school means that I don’t have to worry about having dirty clothes, and it makes me feel more excited, and makes me feel like I fit in more,” Vanessa said in a video released by Whirlpool.
An eighth-grader named Logan also struggled with a lack of clean clothes, and explained how hard it can be for others to understand what a big problem that really is. He shared:
“I think people don’t talk about not having clean clothes because it makes you want to cry or go home or run away or something. It doesn’t feel good.”
For some kids, like fourth-grader Joe, washing his clothes wasn’t even an option, because his family was homeless and needed to prioritize their money for food. Vanessa, on the other hand, did have a washer and dryer at home, but was unable to use it after her family’s electricity was cut off.
Martha Lacy, the principal at one of the Whirlpool Care Counts schools, explained that, while it’s possible for schools to address certain issues that low-income kids face — like access to food through free or reduced-fee school lunch programs, or by connecting them with various social services — the reality was that before the program there was no way for Lacy’s school to help students with issue of lack of clean clothes.
“[The Whirlpool program] has given us the ability to do one more thing for kids,” said Lacy. “To make sure that they not only come to school, but [that] they’ll be successful when they get here.”
According to Whirlpool, more than 4,000 students in the U.S. drop out of school every day. By having an effective way to get some of those students to attend school regularly, schools have an opportunity to help more students get their education, and to break the cycle of poverty that they might otherwise have fallen into.
The second year of the Whirlpool Care Counts program will expand to include 30 additional schools, with the eventual goal of providing laundry machines to the 300 schools across the country who have reached out in need. If you’d like to donate to the program, you can do so electronically on the Whirlpool Care Counts website.More On