Did you know that September is Attendance Awareness month?

Me, neither. But reading one of last Sunday’s national newspapers, I noticed a full-page ad that read, “Whirlpool is helping keep kids in schools with washers and dryers.”

Reading further on, the copy called out two data points making the point about laundry and education:

  1. One in five students don’t have access to clean clothes, making them more likely to miss school; and
  2. Students who miss school are 7 times more likely to drop out of educational system.

The full ad’s theme in the words of Whirlpool is that, “Education has a laundry problem.”

This motivated the company to launch its Care Counts campaign, through which Whirlpool donates washers and  dryers to schools. Since 2015, Whirlpool has donated to 82 schools in 18 cities, impacting about 38,000 young students, according to company statistics. To further scale the program, Whirlpool is collaborating with Teach for America.

#CareCounts’ mission is to help foster educational equality by installing washers and dryers in schools to “help remove one small but important barrier to attendance — access to clean clothes.”

The program works with schools, who identify a Program Leader (a parent, a teacher, an administrator). The Program Leader identifies students who may want to participate in the program and anonymously tracks attendance and grades through the school year. Protocol for use of the laundry varies by school: in some, parents can sign up for time slots to do laundry when it is convenient for them; in other schools, laundry is done by staff themselves.

Let’s talk about the science under the program, which was informed by Dr. Richard Rende, a developmental psychologist and researcher, along with a survey conducted among 600 public school teachers in April and May 2019.

The top-line finding in the teacher study was that 25% of public school teachers in the U.S. spent their own money on clothes for students and cleaning or laundering them on students’ behalf.

The proof is in the pudding — or laundry. In the first year of the Care Counts pilot program,

  • 95% of participating students showed increased motivation in class
  • 95% of participating students were more likely to participate in extracurricular activities
  • 95% of participating students interacted with peers and enjoyed school more
  • 89% of participants got good grades.

In considering the latest results of the program for 2018-19 academic year, Dr. Rende said, “Since its inception, the program has contributed to decreases in chronic absenteeism and increases in grades and levels of self-esteem in at-risk students. The data indicates substantial promise for the program and at-risk students nationwide.”

In this new academic year 2019-2020, Care Counts will conduct longitudinal research assessing the program’s impact of clean clothes on educational development. The program is expanding to new areas including Cleveland, Las Vegas, Miami, Philadelphia and Phoenix.

It’s an admirable and fine start, but as Whirlpool humbly admits, “Until all kids have access to clean clothes, these numbers will always feel too small.”

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  I first encountered Whirlpool’s “Every day, care,” mantra at CES 2015, that year’s annual gathering of 140,000 consumer electronics aficionados, journalists, and industry analysts. I saw this sign, talked with the Whirlpool team about “care,” and referred to this theme in my write-up of CES here on Health Populi in January 2015.

In that post, I wrote, “My time spent with the team in the Whirlpool exhibit of smart home technology supports a macro perspective of making health, and care, at home. The new tagline for Whirlpool’s smart home devices is: Every day, care. The underlying message is: the care you show your loved ones translates into them learning to care and love. It’s a virtuous cycle of care, and caring.

“This is the essence of health: not sensors or medical technology, not hardware or smartwatches. Health is made, mostly, outside of the health care system: with good nutritious food, clean water, activity and safe spaces for walking and playing, getting quality sleep, not smoking…and indeed, love and personal peace. All of these factors drive health.

“The Whirlpool message speaks about more than health care, but the social determinants of health and wellbeing.”

Education is arguably the most important social determinant of health, I write in my book, HealthConsuming (see the chapter titled, “ZIP Codes, Genetic Codes, Food and Health”). Deaton and Case’s research on worsening mortality among middle-aged white men and deaths of despair point to lower educational attainment as one root cause. And we know that quality early childhood education sets up a person to grow and avoid health disparities, bolstering income and socioeconomic status.

An administrator involved in the program, Chaketa Riddle, the assistant superintendent of the Riverview Garden School District in St. Louis, said that the participating students, “feel that they belong in our school community. They feel that we’re a family. They feel that we definitely support their needs and want to make a fun and positive and exciting school experience for them.”

Thus, #CareCounts for clean clothes and school attendance…and also for social connection and belonging. This further bolsters health and well-being and has a hard ROI in growing people who are productivity through their lives as full health and economic citizens.