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Dallas Schools Keep Kids In Class By Keeping Them Clean With New Washers And Dryers

Stella M. Chavez
Staff from the Dallas-based architecture firm, Looney and Associates, recently contributed supplies like laundry detergent and dryer sheets to J.W. Learning Center. The firm's president bought the school a new washer and dryer.

On a frigid December afternoon, a couple dozen volunteers were busy unloading a U-Haul truck outside J.W. Ray Learning Center in Old East Dallas. They were delivering supplies to the elementary school – chairs, shelves and gym equipment.

They also brought along laundry detergent. Lots of detergent. 

The detergent will be put to good use -- with the washer and dryer recently donated to the school.

J.W. Ray is one of a few Dallas schools to get washers and dryers. School leaders say some families can’t afford their own machines, so students show up in dirty clothes. Or they don't go to school at all, fearful their classmates will make fun of them.

Businesses and neighborhoods are teaming up and donating the appliances to help keep kids clean -- and focused on school.

Jim Looney, president of Looney and Associates, a Dallas architectural firm, contacted the district recently after hearing about a Dallas school that received a washer and dryer.

Looney ended up buying J.W. Ray Learning Center its own washer and dryer and got his staff to donate other items. The school is a five-minute drive from the firm.

“You know, it never dawned on me that something as simple as that – clean clothes – what an impact that made on a child’s life, especially their performance in school,” Looney said.

Washing away a stigma

So far, five schools in the Dallas school district have received a washer and dryer -- and 20 to 30 more Dallas schools will be getting them next year.

Tom Hayden, who oversees volunteer and partnership services for the Dallas ISD, says many families can’t afford washers and dryers or don’t have the time or money to get to laundromats. About 97 percent of students at J.W. Ray school come from low socioeconomic homes.

“There are certain communities the public would be surprised to know that don’t have washers and dryers in their homes and, a lot of times, families don’t have the resources to ensure that their kids are coming to schools in clean uniforms,” Hayden said. “Not all but a few. And that’s a stigma that that creates for them.”

You know, it never dawned on me that something as simple as that -- clean clothes -- what an impact that made on a child's life, especially their performance in school.

Whirlpool, the appliance company, recently started putting washers and dryers in selected schools across the country. The company got involved after a principal in Missouri asked for a donation because she found kids were embarrassed to come to school in dirty clothes.

Whirlpool tracked the students whose clothes were cleaned. The company found that more than 90 percent of the students had improved attendance, and teachers reported that 89 percent of the students participated more in class.

Hayden hopes for the same results in Dallas.

“The main reason we do that is that it helps improve attendance in the school,” Hayden said. “And so anything we can do to have a kid sitting in a chair to learn, that’s what we’re going to do.”

In the counselor's office

The washer and dryer are located in the counselor’s office at J.W. Ray, where students wear uniforms to school. Adela Cox, the school principal, says a variety of school employees take turns and wash clothes.

“Some students come to school with their uniforms that they wore the day before and maybe two days ago or they’ve worn them all week,” said Cox. “And so they need to freshen them up and so in order to freshen them up, we would need to wash them and give them back to them.”

Credit Stella M. Chavez / KERA News
Students at J.W. Ray Learning Center in Old East Dallas play with new balls donated by Looney and Associates. The firm also bought the school a new washer and dryer.

On the day the others supplies were delivered to the school, students and staff at J.W. Ray gathered in the gym to thank the employees of Looney and Associates. They yelled at the top of their lungs while the firm’s employees played with the students.

Denya LaSha Williams, who’s 10,  said the washer and dryer are a big help.

“I thought that it was nice for them to help the school out and give us a washer and dryer to help the kids when their shirts get dirty and their pants get dirty,” Denya said.

These machines won’t just clean kids’ uniforms. School officials say they’ll also help wash away the stigma of dirty clothes.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.