How Clean Clothes Can Help Kids with Chronic Absences at School

Like many schools, Gibson Elementary in St. Louis had big problems with attendance — many students were missing nearly a month of school a year.
Melody Gunn, who was the principal at Gibson last year, set out to visit homes and figure out why kids weren’t showing up. Her biggest discovery? They didn’t have clean uniforms to wear to school.
Many families, she found, didn’t have washing machines in the home, and kids were embarrassed to show up at school wearing dirty clothes. The result was that often, they didn’t come.
Gunn thought this was a problem she could fix. She called Whirlpool, which agreed to donate some washers and dryers. Gunn had them installed at the school and then opened the doors for parents to use the machines. If folks couldn’t make it during the school day, the school would offer access to the laundry machines after hours.
It hasn’t made every kid show up, but Principal Gunn says it’s working.
Chronic absence — defined as missing more than 10 percent of the school year (or just two days a month) — is one of the most destructive forces in a child’s education. Yet more than 6 million students in the U.S. miss three weeks or more of school each year.
Research shows that such students are way more likely to fall behind and, eventually, drop out. Addressing the problem goes way beyond skipping …