Schools across the country are using washing machines to boost attendance. It's working.

It's finally back-to-school season. And if all goes well, you'll show up on that first day looking — and feeling — like a million bucks, right?

In the first school day of your dreams, the world is your three-subject spiral notebook. And you, in your sleek new threads, are the artist with a zip-pouch full of freshly sharpened colored pencils, drawing the many-hued future of your dreams across the blank lined pages.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.


But what if looking great isn't an option?

Imagine what it might be like to wear the same clothes from last year on your first day. Not so shiny and swaggy anymore, huh?

Now imagine it's not just the first day of school. That this goes beyond that first sharp entrance. And that on any day of the year, you might roll into class unlaundered, un-showered, and wearing someone else's ill-fitting hand-me-downs.

Unfortunately, that's the reality a lot of kids face.

Some kids are homeless, some are struggling, and some are straddling the choice between spending that last dollar on food, electricity, or a trip to the laundromat.

Either way, poverty often plays a role in chronic absenteeism — students missing 10% or more of the school year — just because they're too embarrassed or afraid to show up feeling filthy.

"People don’t talk about not having clean clothes because it makes you want to cry or go home or run away or something," said Logan, an eighth-grader. "It doesn’t feel good.”

Photo by Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images.

In the past, schools have used things like free meals and transportation as incentives for kids to come to school. But what if all it takes now is a washing machine?

In 2015, Whirlpool launched an initiative called Care Counts, which provided washing machines to 17 different schools with at-risk and low-income students.

The idea was simple: Maybe if students in need could wash their clothes for free, they'd have a better reason to come to school and stay there.

Some schools reported a noticeable difference in attendance within one month.

Over the course of the program's first pilot year, participating students received an average of 50 loads of laundry each, and 93% of them increased their attendance rates — with those at the greatest risk of dropping out averaging an additional 2 weeks of classroom attendance compared with previous years.

"This program has made a difference," said principal Martha Lacy of David Weir Preparatory Academy, a K-8 public school east of San Francisco, in an interview with Today. "And if we can make a positive difference with even one student, it’s worth it."

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

We've all heard the saying that "clothes make the man." Maybe clothes are all it takes to make the student, too.

With over a million students in the United States dropping out of school each year, there's still a lot of work to do. But Whirlpool plans on more than doubling their Care Counts program for the 2016-2017 school year — and hopefully, it keeps growing from there.

If a clean shirt can help to break the cycle of poverty and struggle, a little laundry might be worth it.

Check out the video below to hear from real-life students about the effect that the program has had on their lives so far:

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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