I love hearing about creative solutions to difficult problems.
Chronic absenteeism is one of the biggest problems facing America’s low-income schools. According to NPR, some six million kids miss at least 15 days a year, setting them back academically and burdening the system overall.
There are many reasons why kids miss school: sickness, lack of interest, family responsibilities, drugs.
But a less talked-about reason kids might not show up is that they don’t have clean clothes, and feel too embarrassed to come to school dirty.
This is where Whirlpool comes in.
As part of its Care Counts program, the home-appliance company donated a washer and dryer to 17 schools in two districts in St. Louis, Missouri and Fairfield, California. When Whirlpool compared attendance rates to how often schools did laundry, the data revealed startling progress.
Over 90% of kids in the 17 schools came to school more often than they did before the program began, with an average increase of 6.1 extra days per year. Teachers reported that over 89% of kids participated more in class, 95% interacted with their peers more, and nearly all of them were reported as being more motivated.
While the last set of metrics seem a bit subjective, the fact that over 90% of the kids came to school more often and there was an increase of 6.1 days per year of attendance seems significant and a bit more objective set of measures.
University of California, Irvine, sociologist Richard Arum says the program likely saw such stellar results for two reasons. “The direct effects would be that the students are not embarrassed to come to school because they have clean clothes,” Arum, dean of UCI’s School of Education, tells Business Insider. “The indirect mechanism would be that the program suggests to them that the larger society cares about their schooling.”
The Care Counts program allowed students to bring in whatever laundry they could fit in a single bag as often they needed. Parents or teachers from the school handled the cleaning, at no cost to families. By the end of the year, the schools had done a total of 2,000 loads of laundry.
As a result of the success of the program, Whirlpool plans to expand it across the US., and starting this September, the company will provide washers and dryers to an additional four or five districts, bringing the total number of participating schools to just under 50.
So who would have thought that putting a washer and dryer in a school would boost student attendance. Sometimes the simple, but clever, solutions are the best.
A big thank you to Whirlpool and to the committed teachers and parents at these schools; you’ve made a difference in the lives of these kids, and at the end of the day, there aren’t many things more rewarding than that.
Let’s hope there more of these private/public partnerships to help boost our schools and improve the morale and lives of our kids.
P.S. Thank you to my wife for alerting me to this story!