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Program provides washer and dryer to Pontiac school to address chronic absenteeism

By RAYMOND STRICKLAND

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    PONTIAC, Michigan (WWJ) — At Walt Whitman Elementary in Pontiac, principal Letha Hopkins Powell treats her students as if their family.

“It takes a village,” she said. “You have to care.”

And a family always looks after one another. So, when Hopkins-Powell saw a problem at her school, she and her staff found a solution.

“Once the kids know that you care…that’s 100% our battle that they know we can make a difference,” Hopkins-Powell said.

The problem: chronic absenteeism. It’s an issue affecting Walt Whitman and many schools across the state. Hopkins-Powell says nearly a quarter of her students are excessively absent.

One reason for that is students not having access to clean clothes.

“It affects them social-emotionally. It affects them academically,” she said.

Earlier this year, Hopkins-Powell learned of a program she says is a “blessing in disguise”.

It’s called Care Counts, a laundry program created by a company called Whirlpool in Benton Harbor. According to the company’s website, the program provides washers and dryers to schools to help keep more kids in class.

Walt Whitman received its washer and dryer earlier this year. Hopkins-Powell says she is already seeing the difference.

“Thus far, the numbers are constantly increasing with perfect attendance,” she said.

Walt Whitman teacher Detrius McKinney is mentoring students on how to wash clothes

He says the program is empowering them and giving them the confidence to be a successful student.

“When kids have clean clothes, they learn better, they think better, and it’s less bullying with kids talking about each other,” he said.

Hopkins-Powell says parents of students at the school can also come in and use the washer and dryer as well.

She believes the program has had an impact on her school and she says it’s something all schools in the state should be a part of.

“The way the economy is parents are struggling some of them may not be able to do laundry or pay for laundry, so having this in the community, open to the community to our school community has made a difference.”

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