Thursday 14 December, 2017

Laundry machines at schools supply clean clothes, confidence

Irene Thu Hoang treats students at Foundation Preparatory Charter School like her own children, going as far as giving them another uniform to change into whenever she notices a child wearing dirty clothes.

Some students might not have reliable access to laundry facilities: Their parents might not be able to afford a laundromat, or the electricity might have been shut off at their home. So Hoang, director of office and family services at the school, washes the students' dirty uniforms by hand and then hangs them out to dry.

The task is difficult to accomplish without a proper washer and dryer, but her efforts will soon become easier, as Foundation joins a handful of schools in the city involved in a Whirlpool program that provides laundry machines to schools across the US.

The laundry program this year is expanding to New Orleans' Success Preparatory Academy, ReNEW Schaumburg Elementary, KIPP Central City Primary, Arise Academy and the Foundation school. Although the program's operations vary among schools, each of them aims to help children who might otherwise miss school because of dirty uniforms.

Hoang said on August 4 that she's thrilled the program is bringing laundry machines to Foundation, which opened in the Village de L'est neighborhood in 2015. She credited Foundation founder and head of school Myrialis King for discovering the initiative.

"At least I won't have to spend time hand washing the uniforms like I did in the past," Hoang said.

Although she did not mind cleaning uniforms, she said it was difficult to do so due to a lack of resources.

"I really can't soak them in the bathroom sink, so I got a bucket from my house," Hoang said. "My thing is that I didn't want my kids to be like that all day. I didn't want that to happen to my students."

Determined to ensure students were not treated differently by their peers because of dirty clothing, Hoang said she used to purchase detergent to clean their uniforms. With King's permission, Hoang said she would give affected students another uniform for the day while soaking and washing the old clothing. She would then hang dry their clothes outside.

Hoang's efforts appeared to reap benefits: She said she saw self-esteem increase among students who needed cleaner clothes. She said students were more willing to come to school because they knew somebody "was taking care of" them at Foundation.

Hoang continued to hand wash uniforms when Foundation relocated to Dwyer Road last year, but now she plans to install laundry machines in the teacher's workroom. If Hoang notices a child in dirty clothing during the mornings, she said she will get their teacher's permission to hand the student another uniform so Hoang can wash the other clothes.

"I don't want (families) to keep the child home," Hoang said. "It's happened in the past and when I found out I was like 'we're not going to have that.' Just send them to school or call me ahead of time."

Hoang says she does not want to advertise "the laundromat here" because she wants students and parents to feel comfortable with the option. She stressed everything is kept confidential and the process will be operated quietly.

King echoed Hoang's excitement as she said by phone that Foundation was partly selected because they were already carrying out the program's mission. She said a lot of families require support because they cannot always afford to get to a laundromat.

Arise Academy principal Krista Patrick Brown said by phone that "external barriers" like homelessness often hinder the school's academic goals. Arise joined the program to address that issue. Brown said 8 percent of their student population was considered homeless last year, and incoming student data indicate that number will increase.

Arise Academy plans to invite parents to sign up for time slots that would allow them to come in to do laundry at their convenience. The program will hopefully start in September, Arise social worker Kathleen Stevens said.

Schools involved in the laundry program will track the loads of laundry per student, as well as the student's attendance and grades throughout the school year. Stevens said tracking those variables will help them determine if there is a correlation between school performance and cleaner uniforms

(AP)