When the faculty at Oscar J. Pope Elementary School kept hearing that students were missing school because they didn’t have clean uniforms, one longtime teacher had a brainstorm of an idea.

Lisa Rockett, an ESE facilitator at the school, and her son, Carson,  joined forces to set up a laundry facility at the school. Carson, a 17-year-old senior (and violinist) at Harrison School for the Arts, was on board to help out families who have had struggles with keeping students equipped with clean school uniforms.

“I kept on having kids say, ‘I couldn’t come to school; I didn’t have a clean uniform.’ And no child should miss school for that reason,” Rockett said.

But if they could somehow set up a laundry room at the school, Rockett realized, maybe students who have been dealing with this issue could  have a solution.

She talked it over with the school’s principal, Carol Griffin, who gave her the go-ahead to seek a grant to cover expenses. “So we ended up applying for this Lowe’s Toolbox grant,” Rockett said.

That was in May. The grant was approved, and nearly $4,000 was allocated to the cause. Rockett and her son went appliance shopping, and selected machines that would be the safe and easy for students to operate.

The ideal location was decided upon. A room that once house a therapy pool and has since been used to store equipment had enough space, so the washers and dryers were installed there.

Notes were sent home with students to let families know they could send uniforms in to be laundered. One parent donated an enormous amount of detergent.

It was decided that students at the school who can benefit from learning daily living skills would be taught to do the laundry.  Rockett was quick to say that they aren’t making students work — it’s actually a fairly quick process to load the washers and dryers — and many challenged students will learn this way.

Photos by Lisa Rockett, Brittani Minto and Leah Metelnikow

Laundry bags were purchased and numbered — so services are anonymous.

This week, the suds began to swirl as the first loads of clothes were handled. Seven families have signed up for the program, and it’s expected many more will eventually benefit. Rockett says they are set up to handle laundry services for as many as 25 students.

Griffin, the principal, says she couldn’t be more delighted with the laundry project.

“The benefits of this program are numerous,” Griffin said. “From our students being able to wear clean clothes to actually coming to school because their uniforms are clean.

“This not only has an effect on the students physically, but mentally as well. They feel good about themselves, and it reduces the number of days that they are absent due to not having something clean to wear.”

Rockett is psyched as well. “I just think it’s going to be a huge benefit for a lot of families,” she said.

It’s difficult for some to get back and forth to laundromats because they don’t have transportation. And some students may only have a few sets of uniforms.

“I have full confidence that this program will be of great service to our families and I cannot thank Mrs. Rockett and her son Carson enough for the work that they did in applying for this grant and getting this program off the ground,” Griffin said.

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