Many factors can contribute to a child's chronic absence from school, from problems at home to anxiety about school itself. To tackle this complicated issue, some schools are using an unexpected strategy: They've installed on-campus laundry machines that are free for all students.
By the end of this year, Whirlpool will have donated washers and dryers to dozens of schools with poor attendance numbers since launching the Care Counts program in 2015, Fast Company reports. The schools that Whirlpool selects are often located in low-income neighborhoods where throwing a dirty school uniform into the washing machine after coming home isn't an option for many students. Without access to laundry facilities where they live, some kids choose to skip class rather than go to school in their unwashed clothes.
But when washing machines are made available to children at school, the results are clear. The first year the Care Counts program was implemented in schools in St. Louis, Missouri, and Fairfield, California, average attendance rates rose by two days per chronically absent student. On top of that, teachers saw a 95 percent boost in class and extracurricular participation from students who'd previously missed more than 10 school days a year. And there's no need for schools to worry about the machines posing a distraction: Laundry is washed either by parents or school staff members and returned before the final bell. Each student who participates has around 50 loads of laundry washed at school in a year.
After finding success with the program in over 35 schools in six cities, Whirlpool is teaming up with Teach for America to bring it to 60 more schools in 10 cities across the U.S. About 1000 schools have expressed interest in receiving laundry appliances of their own, and Whirlpool hopes to eventually make that happen by gradually increasing their reach.
Care Counts isn't the only program with the mission of giving kids the basics they may not find at home. Some schools, like Washington High in Washington, North Carolina, offer free pantries that students can visit discreetly. The organization Catie's Closet provides a similar resource, but with free clothes instead of food. Looking for your own way to help kids who are struggling? Call a school in your community to see if there are any lunch debts you can help pay off.
[h/t Fast Company]