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When Schools Offer Free Laundry Services, Attendance Goes Up

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Many factors can contribute to a child's chronic absence from school, from problems at home to anxiety about school itself. To tackle this complicated issue, some schools are using an unexpected strategy: They've installed on-campus laundry machines that are free for all students.

By the end of this year, Whirlpool will have donated washers and dryers to dozens of schools with poor attendance numbers since launching the Care Counts program in 2015, Fast Company reports. The schools that Whirlpool selects are often located in low-income neighborhoods where throwing a dirty school uniform into the washing machine after coming home isn't an option for many students. Without access to laundry facilities where they live, some kids choose to skip class rather than go to school in their unwashed clothes.

But when washing machines are made available to children at school, the results are clear. The first year the Care Counts program was implemented in schools in St. Louis, Missouri, and Fairfield, California, average attendance rates rose by two days per chronically absent student. On top of that, teachers saw a 95 percent boost in class and extracurricular participation from students who'd previously missed more than 10 school days a year. And there's no need for schools to worry about the machines posing a distraction: Laundry is washed either by parents or school staff members and returned before the final bell. Each student who participates has around 50 loads of laundry washed at school in a year.

After finding success with the program in over 35 schools in six cities, Whirlpool is teaming up with Teach for America to bring it to 60 more schools in 10 cities across the U.S. About 1000 schools have expressed interest in receiving laundry appliances of their own, and Whirlpool hopes to eventually make that happen by gradually increasing their reach.

Care Counts isn't the only program with the mission of giving kids the basics they may not find at home. Some schools, like Washington High in Washington, North Carolina, offer free pantries that students can visit discreetly. The organization Catie's Closet provides a similar resource, but with free clothes instead of food. Looking for your own way to help kids who are struggling? Call a school in your community to see if there are any lunch debts you can help pay off.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Design Firm Envisions the Driverless School Bus of the Future
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Engineers have already designed vehicles capable of shuttling pizzas, packages, and public transit passengers without a driver present. But few have considered how this technology can be used to transport our most precious cargo: kids. Though most parents would be hesitant to send their children on a bus with no one in the driver's seat, one design firm believes autonomous vehicle technology can change their rides for the better. Their new conceptual project, called Hannah, illustrates their ideas for the future of school bus travel.

As Co.Design reports, Seattle-based design firm Teague tackled both the practical challenges and the social hurdles when designing their driverless school bus. Instead of large buses filled with dozens of kids, each Hannah vehicle is designed to hold a maximum of six passengers at a time. This offers two benefits: One, fewer kids on the route means the bus can afford to pick up each student at his or her doorstep rather than a designated bus stop. Facial recognition software would ensure every child is accounted for and that no unwanted passengers can gain access.

The second benefit is that a smaller number of passengers could help prevent bullying onboard. Karin Frey, a University of Washington sociologist who consulted with the team, says that larger groups of students are more likely to form toxic social hierarchies on a school bus. The six seats inside Hannah, which face each other cafeteria table-style, would theoretically place kids on equal footing.

Another way Hannah can foster a friendlier school bus atmosphere is inclusive design. Instead of assigning students with disabilities to separate cars, everyone can board Hannah regardless of their abilities. The vehicle drives low to the ground and extends a ramp to the road when dropping off passengers. This makes the boarding and drop-off process the same for everyone.

While the autonomous vehicles lack human supervisors, the buses can make up for this in other ways. Hannah can drive both backwards and forwards and let out children on either side of the car (hence the palindromic name). And when the bus isn’t ferrying kids to school, it can earn money for the district by acting as a delivery truck.

Still, it may be a while before you see Hannah zipping down your road: Devin Liddel, the project’s head designer, says it could take at least five years after driverless cars go mainstream for autonomous school buses to start appearing. All the regulations that come with anything involving public schools would likely prevent them from showing up any sooner. And when they do arrive, Teague suspects that major tech corporations could be the ones to finally clear the path.

"Could Amazon or Lyft—while deploying a future of roving, community-centric delivery vehicles—take over the largest form of mass transit in the United States as a sort of side gig?" the firm's website reads. "Hannah is an initial answer, a prototype from the future, to these questions."

[h/t Co.Design]

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New Pop-Up Museum in Maryland Looks at What It's Like Being a Teen Today
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Museums across America explore everything from break-ups to the human urinary tract system. Now, The Washington Post reports that a group of Maryland high school students have launched a pop-up museum dedicated to the modern teenage experience—selfies, schoolwork, and social pressures included.

Located in a vacant restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, the Museum of Contemporary American Teenagers (MoCAT)—which is set to run from December 6 to December 9, and again from December 14 to December 16—is primarily organized by students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Organizers believe it’s the first project of its kind to explore teen identity and culture.

Displays at MoCAT, which received funding through donations and crowdsourcing, will include murals, 30 exhibits, live performances, and 150 “selfie” sculptures molded from clay. Exhibition themes are slated to change daily, and cover topics that run the gamut from unrealistic body image expectations to smartphone addiction and college application stress. Others are more political in nature, examining everything from fear of gun violence to shifting gender norms.

The MoCAT isn’t intended to be permanent, as it’s located inside the future sight of Marriott’s new headquarters. But according to The Washington Post, the students say they’d love to see the initiative eventually gain new life as a traveling exhibition featuring contributions from teens around America.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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