Oftentimes, students who are chronically absent from school don't necessarily want to be — there are simply things going on in their lives that are out of their control. These students may not have reliable transportation, for starters. Or worse, maybe they're being bullied at school. Others might not even have their basic needs met, which, sadly, makes school the least of their worries. When it comes down to it, what goes on during students' home lives has a huge impact on their school performance. Whether they get enough food, enough sleep, whether they're abused physically or emotionally, if they can even afford school supplies — all of these things come into play. That's exactly why the fact that this high school installed a laundromat to help bullied students is so inspiring.
One New Jersey high school principal, who has only been in the position for two weeks, is taking steps to address one factor that can cause students to be bullied and, subsequently, chronically absent: not having clean clothes to wear. In the short time since he's been the principal at West Side High School, Akbar Cook has taken concrete action to help students who have been picked on because of their dirty clothes. "We found out that kids was being bullied. And they was being bullied because of their cleanliness," Cook told ABC7 New York. As a result of this bullying, some students were repeatedly absent from school — often missing three to five days of school per month.
One time, a student didn't want her bags checked in order to enter the school building, FOX8 Cleveland reported. "We had to almost detain her, and we come to find out she was just carrying dirty clothes — that she was homeless for the weekend," Cook explained.
Ultimately, the school installed washers and dryers in what used to be the football team's locker room. When news of the laundry room at the school started to spread on social media, community members began donating laundry detergent and dryer sheets. Students will be able to wash their clothes, free of charge, after school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, starting on Aug. 27. "Because the kids feel that and they'll fight on that SAT or that test the same way you fight for them," Cook said. "That's who I am."
It's amazing to me that this principal has only been on the job for two weeks and he's already making changes that will have a lasting impact on his students' lives. And based on the comments on this Facebook post of the news story, I'm not the only one impressed by Cook's actions. One Facebook user wrote, "Going above and beyond his duty makes for one remarkable person. Imagine if everybody did just one act of kindness every day what a better world our children would live in."
Another person commented, "That’s the kind of principal every school should have!"
Yet another Facebook user wrote, "Standing ovation for this man. Be the difference, make a difference!"
Of course, this isn't the first school to ever step in and address the issue of students not having access to washers and dryers. As Today reported in 2016, the Whirlpool Care Counts Program has made a world of difference in students' lives. The David Weir Preparatory Academy — which is a K-8 public school in Fairfield, California — participated in the program back in the 2014-2015 school year. Whirlpool installed a washer and a dryer in the school while also providing cloth laundry bags, garbage bags, detergent, and fabric softener. Next, the school discreetly invited student who had missed more than 10 days of school the prior school year to bring their clothes to school and have them cleaned while in class. And the results were amazing.
During the first year of the Whirlpool program, 17 schools were helped in two school districts, according to Today. A whopping 93 percent of participating students increased their attendance after they were provided with clean clothes. What's more is at-risk students ended up attending nearly two more weeks of school than the prior year. Teachers also reported increased classroom participation and student motivation.
If you ask me, the initial investment of the washing machines and dryer is well worth the benefits. It's refreshing, too, to see schools tackle the root of one of the reasons students are chronically absent. (You know, instead of placing the blame solely on the kids or judging the parents — which does nothing to help the situation.) Hopefully, West Side High School experiences similar changes in student attendance and behavior as a result of its new laundry room. Because every students deserves to start off the school day wearing clean clothes and with their heads held high.