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How having access to laundry facilities is changing the school experience for many kids

Low-income students, kids with special needs benefit from Whirlpool program
Posted at 10:57 AM, May 07, 2019

Five times a day, third-grader Morgan Pohl gets an alarm during her school day letting her know it's time to change her shirt.

Morgan has polymicrogyria, a condition that causes her to drool constantly. Her teachers want to make sure her shirt is always clean.

"She would end up with a big spot of drool on her shirt and so then she wouldn't be treated differently," said Lynn Malie, a special education teacher at Doull Elementary School in Denver.

But that means a lot of laundry. That's OK though — Morgan does the laundry herself.

"It's time to wash my clothes," the elementary school student says as she fills up her basket.

She heads into the hallway, down the stairs, through the gym and into her school's storage room, which has been turned into a laundry room.

In just a few minutes the clothes are in the washer and a confident Megan heads back to class.

The convenience has made all the difference.

"She's able to be in groups with other students who don't say something, don't notice anything," Malie said. "It's increased her self-esteem, and she just feels really proud."

A grant from Whirlpool made it possible for Doull Elementary School to get this washer and dryer through the company's Care Counts School Laundry Program . It's one of the latest schools around the country to provide free laundry facilities for students with the goal to increase attendance.

As many as six million students are chronically absent, missing roughly two days a school a month.

"We often get calls, 'why isn't so-and-so in school?' Because, well, their one pair of jeans is still soaking wet," said Rob Suglia, the assistant principal at Doull. "So this is a is a way to eliminate a barrier."

And it's working. Suglia says he's already noticed more students in class because they're no longer embarrassed.

Nationally, Whirpool says, 85 percent of high-risk students in elementary schools increased their attendance in 2017-18 with the help of their program.

At Doull, 93 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, so buying detergent, having access to laundry facilities, or even having electricity, can be a challenge for some families.

"I just have really seen a few kids turn things around," Suglia said. "And I never thought that a washer and dryer could be a part of that."

For Morgan, it's meant more friends and, in turn, more learning. All from a few loads of laundry.