CHICAGO (CBS) — Clean clothes can lead to better school attendance – that’s the idea behind a program using washing machines to keep kids in the classroom.

As CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar reported, the Piccolo School of Excellence in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood is one of dozens of schools that is participating in a new program where students can clean their clothes at school.

“We specifically tried to target our most vulnerable students, who are our students in transitional living situations,” said Piccolo Assistant Principal Erin Lauesen.

There is a cycle that Lauesen is trying end.

“Something as basic as clean clothes is absolutely something that not only prevents kids from coming to school, but also from the confidence to come to school and also feel good,” Lauesen said.

Some students told their stories in a YouTube video for the Whirlpool USA Care Counts program.

 

“We have a washer and dryer at home, it’s just that our electricity was shut off,” one girl said.

“When I was homeless, we had no clean clothes, because we only had a little bit of money and we used that money for food,” a boy said.

One in five kids doesn’t have access to clean clothes, according a Braun Research survey.

“It’s a very hard look at the data,” said developmental psychologist Dr. Richard Rende.

Rende said it is a problem that can stack up and prevent kids from going to school.

“As you miss more school and you start to get behind more, your motivations starts to decline,” he said.

So far, 82 schools in 18 cities across the country, including Piccolo, are trying a different approach to chronic absenteeism – cleaning clothes at school for those in need – using machines donated through the Care Counts program.

“I absolutely believe that like removing the barrier of like, you’re responsible for your own clean clothes, is a huge part of making kids feel like that can’t be an excuse on the table,” Lauesen said.

Rende is tracking the students who are participating in the school laundry program. He said his research has not only repeatedly shown higher attendance rates who were once missing about 10 percent of the school year, and the data are also showing better performance in the classroom.