Schools bring laundry services to campus to boost attendance

Schools bring laundry services to campus to boost attendance

(N.J.) One New Jersey high school joined the growing list that has installed laundry facilities on campus in an effort to address high rates of chronic absenteeism by helping ensure students have clean clothes.

Officials at West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey said a lack of clean clothing was a key reason 85 percent of students at the school were absent between three to five days a month. 

The school partnered with Whirlpool to bring washers and dryers on campus through the company’s “Care Counts” program.

The initiative has helped 10 districts and 58 schools, washing an average of 50 loads of laundry per participant, according to Whirlpool officials.

Attendance rates for high-risk students increased from 82 to 91 percent during the 2016-2017 school year among those that had laundry facilities installed.

“Every day students across the country struggle with a variety of different factors that inhibit their academic performance,” Jennifer Tayebi, a spokesperson for Whirlpool, said in a statement. “By placing washer and dryers in schools, we hope to eliminate one of those obstacles, so kids can focus on learning,” she said.

Studies have shown that when children’s basic needs are not met–whether they don’t have access to food, regular shelter or even clean clothes–they are less likely to be able to focus in school, if they even get to class at all. And chronic absences as early as kindergarten have been linked to negative long-term impacts on reading proficiency, performance in math, test scores, and suspension and dropout rates.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education found that more than 6.5 million of the nation’s K-12 students—approximately 13 percent—were chronically absent from class. High school students made up the majority, with almost 3 million missing at least 15 days of instruction.

Schools have worked to tackle those underlying barriers to attendance in recent years by providing on-site food pantries, health clinics, school supplies and laundry services, among other resources.

Nearly 75 percent of low-income families have reported skipping washing dishes or clothes in order to make up for the shortage of household goods, according to a report from the non-profit organization Feeding America.

Whirlpool’s Care Counts program has expanded to schools in California, Illinois, Missouri, Georgia and Louisiana, among other states. Earlier this year, a high school in South Carolina installed laundry facilities through the program, and teachers and administrators told local reporters they saw an immediate boost in classroom participation–likely because students who previously had dirty clothes and tried not to bring attention to themselves joined in class conversations.

Teachers in other schools where washers and dryers were installed have reported students being more confident, developing relationships with peers, and participating in extracurricular activities. They also said there was a noticeable uptick in attendance rates.

In New Jersey, school leaders at West Side High School said some students had been bullied over their unkempt appearance, both in person and on social media.

In addition to improving school climate by reducing bullying, officials said they are eager to see how having laundry services at the school improves attendance.

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