Whirlpool’s Care Counts laundry program has significantly reduced school absenteeism by allowing students the dignity of wearing clean clothes to class.
By Alan Wolf, YSN
For the past six years Whirlpool, through its Care Counts laundry pair donation program, has been working with schools to remove a sad barrier to learning: a lack of clean clothing.
Indeed, for many schoolchildren around the country, the absence of basic necessities, including laundered clothes to wear to class, has led to absenteeism and disruptions in focus, motivation and emotional well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, as school systems contend with unforeseen and extensive challenges to the learning environment.
To help address students’ growing needs, the Care Counts laundry program has expanded to 122 schools in 33 regions. The latest additions for the 2020-2021 school year include Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Mississippi, and Whirlpool will continue to work with schools that are participating in a second year of the program in Cleveland, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Phoenix.
With support from Teach For America, Whirlpool is also working with participating schools to find additional ways to ensure access to clean clothes for kids. Despite hybrid and virtual learning, many school locations will remain a central hub for families to pick up meals and launder their clothes in a safe environment.
“We created Care Counts because a lack of access to clean clothes is a barrier to attending school,” said Chelsey Whitehead, Senior Brand Manager of Whirlpool brand. “Given the current situation, it feels more important than ever to be able to provide resources that help. Over the summer, we listened to the school principals involved in this year’s program, and we learned their students need basic necessities now more than ever before. We are humbled that the Care Counts laundry program can continue to help to fulfill a small but important need by providing access to clean clothes.”
In addition, the manufacturer has again enlisted the help of internationally recognized developmental psychologist, researcher and educator Richard Rende, Ph.D., this time to determine how success is measured in this new era of hybrid learning and social distancing within the classroom.
Dr. Rende’s original task was to draw research-based connections between access to clean clothes and attendance rates by anonymously tracking student attendance, loads of laundry and grades. Ultimately, the data showed that access to clean clothes can positively impact the lives of thousands of students at-risk for absenteeism. During the 2019-2020 school year alone, the Care Counts laundry program enabled nearly 90 percent of participating high-risk elementary school students to increase their attendance, Whirlpool said, and nearly three out of four (73 percent) participating high-risk elementary students were no longer at risk for chronic absenteeism following the program’s implementation.
But owing to COVID-19 and remote-learning models, the program will now track measures beyond attendance, such as participation in class (whether remote or in-person), engagement, demeanor and social-emotional well-being.
“A significant number of caregivers have felt the economic impact of COVID-19 and are finding it more difficult to provide basic necessities for their school-age children,” said Dr. Rende said. “When students lack basic necessities like food, shelter, clean clothes or hygiene products, anxieties about access to basic needs impact their ability to focus, regulate emotions and control behavior impulses. For children who are more likely to be chronically absent from school under normal circumstances, academic engagement will be even more difficult for them regardless of if in-person or remote.”