Worcester school says Clothing Pantry program is helping students succeed


Story image for Clothing from CBS Boston / WBZ

WORCESTER, Mass. – When you think of what it takes for a middle school student to succeed, freshly washed clothes might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But at one Worcester middle school, they found a lack of clean clothes was causing some kids to stay home.

For many people, doing the laundry is dreaded chore. But at the Sullivan Middle School, they’re happy to throw a student’s clothes into a washing machine they installed this year.

They account a 10 percent reduction in absenteeism, in large part, to making sure kids are able to have clean clothes.

“Students become a little sensitive about their clothes,” explained Principal Josephine Robertson. “If they feel they are not quite right, they tend to become very uncomfortable and sometimes their peers will even ostracize.”

Because that can be a devastating situation for a teenager, many times they just stay home. Robertson says all those absences disrupt the educational process for everyone.

“Many times students who are absent come to the classroom and find that they don’t know what is happening, and so instead of showing that they really don’t know, they revert to the discipline issues and that is really where the problem lies.”

Washing clothes for students is just another example of how schools are changing to handle a broader set of needs. About 80 percent of the students at Sullivan are economically disadvantaged which is why they created what they call a “Clothing Pantry”.

Worcester School Superintendent Maureen Binienda said that is just one of many services, such as breakfast and lunch programs, health services, and eye screenings that are now offered to students.

The payoff for all these programs, including washing clothes, is that it can give students the confidence to be present and accounted for, and an increased chance at success, according to Binienda.

“We want all students to come to school feeling equal, that they are as good as every other student, and really focus on the reason you come to school, which is to learn.”

Worcester officials are so happy with the results they’ve seen washing students clothes at Sullivan Middle school, they expect to expand to four additional schools in September.