Washers, Dryers Are Unexpected Tools for Engaging Students in High-Poverty District

By Evie Blad — December 15, 2014 1 min read
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If you haven’t already, you need to check out this sneak peek of Education Week‘s 2015 Leaders To Learn From report. We provide a glimpse at four district-level leaders who are doing effective and interesting things to meet the needs of their students and to boost the success of their school systems. The rest will be released later, and we will talk to many of the leaders at a live event March 18.

There’s one leader featured in our early release

that I think will be of particular interest to Rules for Engagement readers: Tiffany Anderson, the superintendent in the Jennings, Mo., school district.

Jennings, outside of St. Louis, may sound familiar to our readers. It has been caught up in the tension following the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown this summer. It also has a high-poverty rate, which is a challenge for any educational leader.

Anderson has taken some steps to address academics in her district, including adopting a rigorous curriculum and building relationships with community partners and service providers using a community schools model.

She’s also done something a little less common: She’s opened a district food pantry and installed washers and dryers in every school so that students have access to clean clothes. It seems like such a simple step, but it’s one that can make a big difference. No amount of special reading interventions or extended school time are effective if a student is too distracted or embarrassed about wearing dirty jeans to pay attention to what’s happening in the classroom.

On tours of community schools, I’ve heard a few other leaders pitch washers and dryers as a way of clearing one more hurdle that students from low-income families frequently face.

I will be excited to read more about Anderson’s experience and to learn from other dynamic leaders when the full report is released.

Does your school have a washer and dryer? Do you let students use it?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.