Science teacher Georgina Smith used to drive past a laundromat on her way home from evening classes at Brooklyn College in New York. The children gazing out the windows, waiting for their parents to finish the laundry, seemed to be looking directly at her.
The image of the bored children nagged at her for months. Then Ms. Smith, who at the time was a New York City teaching fellow and a Brooklyn College graduate student, found a way to make their time productive.
Last February, she arrived at the Clean Rite Laundromat Center on McDonald Avenue with volunteer tutors from Brooklyn College and armfuls of books for them to read with the customers’ children.
Now, instead of playing video games, watching television, or running around, the children can settle in with a good book and someone to help them with it.
Dubbed “Wash and Learn,” the program is a partnership between Laundry Capital, the parent company of the Clean Rite Laundromat Centers, and the school of education at Brooklyn College.
Next month, its two sites will open for the spring semester.
Ms. Smith, now a science teacher at Public School 159 in Brooklyn, said she harnessed the youngsters’ energy into effective reading sessions.
“They pick the books. They direct the topics,” she said. “We’re just here to facilitate the learning. We must expose these children to as much reading, writing, and talking opportunities as possible, and that is how they’re going to learn to read.”
John Sabino, the president of Laundry Capital, said his company donated about $10,000 to the program for books, supplies, and educators. Mr. Sabino wants to expand the program to more of his Brooklyn laundromats.
Ms. Smith, who hopes to expand the tutoring program to other kinds of venues, has found that not only are parents and young readers pleased with the program, but the volunteer tutors are as well.
“That first semester was an amazing experience for me,” said Amy Dempsey, the McDonald Avenue site coordinator. “It solidified my decision to become a teacher.”
The program has been so successful, said Wayne Reed, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College, that he encourages students to spend some of their fieldwork hours with the Wash and Learn readers. “It pushes our students to a new level of training,” Mr. Reed said.
A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2005 edition of Education Week