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Four Chicago public schools getting washers and dryers to help students in need

Amethyst Ramos is a parent volunteer who helps by doing the laundry for students at Piccolo Elementary Specialty School, using a washer and dryer installed at the school this year. Six CPS schools in all received washers under a program sponsored by Teach for America and Whirlpool. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Last school year, one CPS middle school student, who had lost both of his parents, complained other students would make fun of him because of the way he smelled.

But he had no way wash his clothes.

“He was kind of taking care of himself more than someone his age should be,” said Piccolo School of Excellence counselor Amy Franklin. “He’s not going to take his own clothes to the laundromat.”

Now he has a washer and dryer at his school.

The “Care Counts” program, backed by Teach for America and Whirlpool, has brought washers and dryers to four schools in Chicago and one in northwest Indiana. School staff members use the machines to wash clothes for students in need — and, they hope, keep them coming to school.

“It might make some of those conversations a little bit easier,” Franklin said. “I have a more concrete answer of how to help the situation.”

School staff hear stories almost daily of students not coming to school because they don’t have clean clothes, said Piccolo principal Michael Abello.

Michael Abello, principal of Piccolo Elementary Specialty School. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

“In some cases, the family does not want to send them to school out of fear for embarrassment,” Abello said. “Students themselves don’t feel comfortable.”

Besides Piccolo, the other schools are: Acero Marquez, KIPP Bloom College Prep and Chicago Collegiate Charter School, all in Chicago, as well as Steel City Academy in Gary.

Schools in three other cities — Los Angeles, Atlanta and New Orleans — also received washers and dryers through the program.

Homeless students especially need clean clothes, Abello said, so he’s been trying to start a laundry program since he took the helm at Piccolo four years ago. Until now, though, there wasn’t enough money; all the school could do was provide extra uniforms to students in need at the beginning of the year, he said.

Many teachers and staff also took home laundry to wash on the weekends, said Dean of Culture Erin Lauesen.

Amethyst Ramos is a parent volunteer who helps by doing the laundry for students at Piccolo Elementary Specialty Schoo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Piccolo, in West Humboldt Park, has an attendance rate of 96 percent overall, but Abello said 15 percent of its 597 students fall below the 90 percent attendance mark, and about 8 percent of the student body are in temporary living situations.

Teach for America and Whirlpool picked schools for the program, said Teach for America executive director Aneesh Sohoni.

“The theory that absentees can be linked to not having clean clothes — this is a potential factor,” Sohoni said. “(It’s) not the only factor, but my hope is that helps our students in our schools.”

Lauesen will head the program at Piccolo, scheduling staff members for laundry shifts. Whirlpool will provide detergent and dryer sheets.

Parents will be as excited about this program as students, Lauesen said.

“This can be one less worry, having clean clothes at school,” she said. “I hope that can allow them to give energy to something else.”

Piccolo Elementary Specialty School is among six in the city that had a washer and dryer installed as part of the “Care Counts” program, sponsored by Teach America and Whirlpool. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times