Education has a laundry problem. According to teachers nationwide, one in five students struggle with access to clean clothes, which leads to students missing school—and those kids who miss school are seven times more likely to drop out.
When the Whirlpool laundry brand heard about this hidden problem of chronic absenteeism, it decided to break down this barrier to attendance by providing schools access to clean clothes—and it’s actually working.
Today, embarking on its fifth year, the Care Counts laundry program has grown to support students in need across 18 U.S. cities, providing laundry machines for more than 38,000 students in 82 schools around the country.
“New data this year continues to show the program has contributed to decreases in chronic absenteeism,” said Chelsey Whitehead, senior brand manager for Whirlpool. “And we are just getting started.”
This year, for the first time, Care Counts is inviting schools that serve low-income families nationwide to apply for a laundry pair to bring this program to even more students.
“We hope to make even more progress by expanding the program well beyond the footprint of our pilot program.”
In analyzing the most recent data from the 2018-2019 school year, Whirlpool found more promising results:
- Participating high-risk elementary school students attended more than one more day of school per month during the program, projecting to 11 more days per year. These 11 extra days in school for students can make the difference between getting back on track academically and falling significantly behind classmates.
- The program contributed to increased attendance rates with three out of four high-risk elementary school participants missing less school. Missing more than one day of school a month can mean missing the lesson on learning how to count with classmates or how to read basic sentences.
- Over two-thirds of participating elementary school students at risk for chronic absenteeism had an increase in their grades during the program.
“We know every day counts. Getting students back in the classroom can make the difference between staying on course with their academic performance, or falling behind in a significant way,” said Dr. Richard Rende, a developmental psychologist, researcher and educator. “Since its inception, the program has contributed to decreases in chronic absenteeism and increases in grades and levels of self-esteem in at-risk students. The data indicates substantial promise for the program and at-risk students nationwide.”
With research over the years showing the program has the greatest impact on high-risk elementary school students, the nationwide expansion will focus on qualified Title I elementary schools. Whirlpool is partnering with CSC Serviceworks, an industry leader in installation and service, to help more schools combat the laundry crisis.
“This program is such an easy way to help solve a very difficult problem in our schools,” said Jo Carrigan, principal of Doull Elementary. “We’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the program to see the results firsthand, and I’m so happy that the program is opening applications because there are countless schools not just here in Denver—but all over the country that will benefit. Our new washer and dryer are an amazing resource for our students.”
With the help of Dr. Rende, Whirlpool collects and analyzes anonymized laundry and school attendance data to prove that access to clean clothes improves attendance and more.
The program is pivoting this 2019-2020 academic year to study the longitudinal impact of clean clothes on educational development. To keep a pulse on the effectiveness of the program, new regions involved in the collection of anonymous laundry, attendance and grades data include: Cleveland, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami and Phoenix. Whirlpool works with Teach For America to identify these qualified and at-need schools.
The first phase of the pilot study in 2015-2016 proved the program is feasible and sustainable for schools. A second phase from 2016-2019 observed notable increases in attendance after implementation of the program for elementary and middle school students at risk for chronic and problematic levels of absenteeism.
To learn more about the program or nominate a school to receive a washer and dryer, check out the Care Counts website.
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