By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — Students who miss two to four days of school in the first month are five times more likely to be consistently absent for the year.
Last year, a teacher in Missouri approached Whirlpool Corp. and claimed a leading cause of absenteeism in her school was the lack of clean clothes for students.
Whirlpool reported that its survey of 600 teachers nationwide revealed one in five students struggle with access to clean clothes in the United States.
That’s when Whirlpool created the Care Counts program, which offers students access to laundry machines at school. The program then tracked attendance to determine if performance would improve if kids had clean clothes.
Through the next school year, 90 percent of students improved their attendance, averaging 6.1 more days in school than the previous year. The program would go on to affect the most at-risk participants even more, with an average of nearly two more weeks in school than the previous year, according to results from Whirlpool.
The school averaged about 50 loads per student, and 95 percent of students had more motivation in class.
“We don’t normally think of cleaning and washing as acts of love,” said Chelsey Lindstrom, brand manager for Whirlpool. “For us as a brand, our mission is to help families thrive, and we know the role that appliances play in people’s lives. A simple load of laundry can have a huge impact on families and communities.”
The effort began because of Melody Gunn, a former principal of Gibson Elementary School in St. Louis, noticed her students were staying home or being teased because they did not have clean clothes.
She reached out to Whirlpool, looking for a way to address the clean clothes conundrum. A few months later, the home appliance maker installed washers and dryers in 17 schools in St. Louis and Fairfield, Calif.
This school year, the program will expand to about 20 more schools around the country. Whirlpool allows each district to decide how the donated washers and dryers are run through the program.