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Expand Loads of Love laundry program to address chronic absenteeism in KC public schools

A worker from Lowe’s delivers a dryer to Garfield Elementary School as part of United Way of Greater Kansas City’s Loads of Love program.
A worker from Lowe’s delivers a dryer to Garfield Elementary School as part of United Way of Greater Kansas City’s Loads of Love program. Submitted photo

Every day, children in Kansas City miss class because they don’t have clean school uniforms. To address the issue, the United Way of Greater Kansas City’s Loads of Love KC is installing washers and dryers inside public school buildings.

The program first donated $5,000 for machines at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School. Kids are given mesh bags to fill at home, then discreetly return to school for laundering.

Now in its second year, the campaign tallied an astounding $27,000 during a “Giving Tuesday” drive in November. The Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Company and Faultless Healthcare Linen matched individual donations at 50 cents for every dollar pledged.

Nine of the district’s schools will receive washers and dryers as a result. Lowe’s will deliver them.

Expanding Loads of Love could help address the chronic absenteeism that has plagued Kansas City Public Schools. But it’s imperative that the private sector throw its collective weight behind the program for a lasting effect.

The collaboration is a powerful statement about the community’s investment in public education. Metro area businesses should take note. More contributions would benefit other city schools, as well as other districts in need.

The initiative is patterned after Whirlpool’s Care Counts laundry program. According to Whirlpool, nationwide attendance rates for high-risk students — those who miss 15 or more days in a school year — improved from 81 to 92 percent during the 2016-17 campaign.

Teachers surveyed reported 89 percent of students had increased classroom participation, while 95 percent had more motivation in class.

Attendance at Benjamin Banneker improved by close to 10 percent after the school began cleaning students’ clothes on its campus last year, Assistant Superintendent Anthony Lewis said. Parental engagement skyrocketed as well. Parents can do laundry, sit with their children at lunch and visit their students’ classrooms while waiting for loads to finish.

Garfield Elementary School, the second school included in the program, will use a similar approach.

While it is tough to say there is a direct correlation between the gift and improved attendance at Banneker, the connection shouldn’t be dismissed, said United Way senior manager Stephanie Miller.

“We’ve seen amazing results,” she said.

Kansas City Public Schools have progressed in recent years, but chronic absenteeism is still a concern. The district earned full accreditation in 2016 for the first time in 30 years, but failed to do so in 2017 because of poor student attendance and high student mobility, officials said.

To truly move the needle on improved attendance, Loads of Love must expand. To donate, text LoveKC to 41444 or visit bit.ly/LoadsOfLoveKC

Access to a washer and dryer won’t solve every issue in public schools, but it does remove at least one barrier.

As Miller put it, the most important word a student can say to a teacher is “here.”

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