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.
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.”
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."
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: