Two school districts have found that the secret to raising attendance rates in schools in low-income areas could be as simple as providing laundry machines.
“One of my students had just sort of withdrawn from school completely,” Alison Guernsey, a seventh grade English teacher in Fairfield, California, told TODAY Parents. “After we started the program, he was more excited about coming, and he started to be actively engaged in class. He didn’t feel like an outsider anymore,” she said.
At Guernsey’s school — David Weir Preparatory Academy, a K-8 public school east of San Francisco — 94 percent of the student population is in the free and reduced lunch program, meaning students come from low-income homes.
Last year, the school participated in an experiment introduced by Whirlpool as part of its Whirlpool Care Counts Program: Whirlpool installed a washer and dryer in the school and provided cloth laundry bags, garbage bags, detergent, and fabric softener. Then, the school administration discreetly invited a group of students who had missed more than ten days of school the year before to bring clothes with them to school to be cleaned while they were in class. Key words: in class.
“What I see is that if kids feel like they don’t fit in — if they feel like they are missing something from the norm — then they don’t want to participate in activities or sometimes even come to school,” Guernsey said.
“Many of our students are transient,” said Guernsey. “Some are homeless, or they might stay with family members, but they don’t have a stable home or money or resources.” Guernsey said teachers have tried to help in the past by taking clothes home themselves to clean or by buying students clothes when they have none, they couldn’t cover all the students’ needs and sometimes couldn’t get them to come to school for months at a time.
But after they started washing the students’ clothes at school, they began to see a difference, said Guernsey.
One girl, Guernsey said, “completely changed” after the school began washing her clothes. “Before, she would hardly speak in class. She was very quiet and didn’t have many friends. She’s blossomed now — she came into her own.”