Schools across the country are realizing one of the main reasons students are absent from class is because of a lack of clean clothes, so administrators are teaming with Whirlpool and the education group Teach for America to do something about it.
Principal Akbar Cook told WCBS about 85 percent of students at West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey are absent between three and five days a month, and a big reason is they’re embarrassed by their dirty clothes.
“They were being bullied and it wasn’t just in the building, it was on Snapchat – I’m sitting behind you and take a picture of your collar ‘look at this dirty guy,’” Cook said. “So you go home and you couldn’t even escape it if you were on social media.”
Student Nasirr Cameron said the harassment isn’t uncommon.
“I’ve seen kids in the back of the class talk about kids in the front of the class and how they smell and how their clothes look dirty,” he said.
The news site points to data from the nonprofit Feed America that shows nearly 75 percent of poor families skip doing laundry or washing dishes because they can’t afford it. Cook decided to change the situation in Newark and secured a $20,000 grant through the utility company PSEG to build a laundromat for students in the school’s former football locker room. He’s also worked to solicit donations from the community to stock the facility with soap and other essentials.
The idea is modeled after a partnership between Whirlpool and Teach for America called “Care Counts” that has installed laundry machines in 10 school districts in recent years. And the results speak for themselves.
“In the first year, the program provided approximately 2,000 loads of clean clothes to students across two districts. After examining the correlation between student attendence and the loads of laundry washed and dried, over 90% of tracked students in the program improved their attendance, averaging 6.1 more days in school than the previous year,” according to the Care Counts website.
Teachers surveyed through the pilot program reported increased motivation in class, more participation in extracurricular activities, more interaction with peers and school, and better grades.
“Every single day of school matters. When students miss school, they are missing an opportunity to learn,” said Martha Lacy, principal at David Weir K-8 Academy, one of the participating schools. “Absenteeism strongly impacts a student’s academic performance. In fact, students with excessive absence rates are more likely to fall behind, graduate late and even drop out.”
“It’s incredible to see how the simple act of laundry can have such a profound impact on students’ lives and we are excited to bring this resource to even more schools across the country,” Whirlpool brand manager Chelsey Lindstrom said.
James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, notes in his book “The Death of Character,” that the most successful strategies for getting students to class often involve collaboration - between schools and parents, administrators and local leaders, and others - in the problem-solving process.
“Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing; where the social networks of adult authority are strong, united, and consistent in articulating moral ideals and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a ‘caring watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation,” Hunter wrote.
The education site Education Week highlights several studies examining various factors impacting student absenteeism, offering insight into things like how the way students get to school can make a difference, as well as ways to identify and address issues.