One Way to Increase Equity in K-12 Schools: Install Washing Machines

Across the nation, administrators in low-income school districts have discovered a unique solution to falling attendance rates and instances of bullying: washing machines.

To increase student access to laundry facilities and the clean clothes they deserve, a growing number of K-12 districts in the U.S. have installed washing machines within the halls of their schools in recent years—generally for use at no cost to students. 

Access and Equity in Our Schools

At HMH, we highly value access and equity for students. Dr. Tyrone C. Howard, a thought leader and Senior Fellow for the International Center for Leadership in Education, defines equity not necessarily as “giving the same things to all students,” he said in a keynote presentation at Leadership Academy, but more so as focusing on serving the most needy students. Howard reports that roughly one-third of students in classrooms at the nation’s top 100 districts live in poverty. Many struggle to do their laundry due to a lack of essentials such as laundry detergent.

“All children deserve safety, access to quality health care and healthy food, and emotional support and love; these basic needs must be met for productive learning,” HMH President and CEO Jack Lynch wrote in a recent Shaped blog post. “When they are neglected, students will often disengage, miss school, or alternatively, become defiant and disruptive.” 

Installing Washing Machines

In August 2018, CBS News featured West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. The school’s principal, Akbar Cook — who will also be a featured speaker at the 2019 Model Schools Conference — told the news outlet that a lack of clean clothes was a major reason why a vast majority of students were absent multiple days each month.

“They were being bullied and it wasn't just in the building, it was on Snapchat—I'm sitting behind you and take a picture of your collar ‘look at this dirty guy,’” Cook told WCBS. “So you go home and you couldn't even escape it if you were on social media.”

Thanks to a $20,000 grant, a laundromat was completely built two years later. Essentials such as detergent were donated by the community.

The installation of washing machines at K-12 schools has also garnered attention in the past few years due to Whirlpool’s Care Counts School Laundry Program. In its first year, the program gave approximately 2,000 loads of clean clothing to students in two districts, and more than 90 percent of tracked students improved in terms of attendance. The company expanded the initiative to dozens of schools after its initial success.

For further inspiration, check out these examples where installing washing machines to increase student access has had success:

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