Can a washer and dryer boost attendance?

  • August 19, 2016
  • /   Shannon Nickinson
  • /   early-learning,education,report-meeting-the-challenge
Two women standing at a car in a parking lot

Ensley Elementary School staff aims to fill the gaps for students and their families. Credit: Shannon Nickinson.

Sometimes, you have to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

It’s a cliche, but cliches have a kernel of truth at their core. For the principals of Escambia County’s D and F schools, the words they must learn to love by are meeting parents where they are.

Reggie Dogan and I are conducting a series of interviews with the principals of the 11 elementary schools in our county that were given D’s or F’s based on the Florida Standards Assessment test results for 2016.

Our low-graded schools are clustered around neighborhoods where the poverty rate among families with children is near 10 percent or higher. The children and families at these schools often face challenges their peers from better-off families.

The principals are all hard-working folks, dedicated to their students and families. They know better than most that helping their kids means helping the whole family.

Which is why a story about the Whirlpool Care Counts program struck a chord. The former principal of a St. Louis-area elementary school approached the appliance giant to donate a washer and dryer to the school.

That principal, Melody Gunn, said she learned from home visits with families at her school that some students’ attendance issues were tied to whether the family could afford to do laundry that week. Attendance jumped among more than 90 percent of the students.

For this school year, Cares Counts will expand to five more school districts, Fox Business reports.

It’s a need that the staff at Ensley Elementary School recognizes right here in Pensacola.

Assistant Principal Jessica Bryan said as the staff looks at ways to fill the gaps for their families, laundry made the list.

“Something we've looked at doing this year is getting a washer and dryer, and when a parent volunteers, they get to do one load of laundry while they're here,” Bryan says. “You have to meet people where their needs are. That'll get them here, and while they’re here, maybe they can do things like counting out stuff that needs to be sent home, or tearing out workbooks, or if they're going to work on their GED, or if they're going to work on a resume, they can be doing that. That's something that we really looked into.”

That’s part of a strategy Bryan and other administrators at low-graded schools all mentioned in one form or another.

Parent outreach looks different at every school, and at some schools, the path to getting parents involved in schools has to look a little different. And if that means a laundry room at the school, then the Ensley staff says, so be it.

“All we’ve got to do is get them here (to the school),” she says.

As Ensley Principal Jayne Cecil, says, “once we get them here, they'll stay. That's the thing is to let them know that we're a safe place. We're not here to get you. We honestly want you here.”

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