For the last two weeks, yellow and green uniform shirts have soaked, spun and dried in the new laundry room at EnCompass Academy on 81stAvenue in East Oakland.
Milton “King” Forward, a second grader at EnCompass, is one student who plans to make a once-a-week delivery to the laundry room. He says it “feels good” to wear a clean shirt to school. That is precisely what Dana Turner, the office manager and attendance specialist for the 330 children at EnCompass, wants.
As it turns out, the major reason for the absence of many students is precisely the want of a clean uniform, and that is what Turner is figuring out how to solve. “In our community, a lot of families can’t afford to wash clothes, or don’t want to ask for assistance because they don’t want to be looked down upon,” Turner said. She and another staff member first tried to wash students’ clothes at home. But it was simply too much.
“I couldn’t afford to wash every students’ clothes at home,” said Turner, who wasn’t the only staff member who would occasionally pay for new shirts or pants out of their own pockets. So, three years ago, Turner reached out to the East Oakland Beautification Council and asked for a grant to get a washer and dryer as a way to boost attendance. Ken Houston, the subject matter expert for the council, and a 2018 Oakland mayoral candidate agreed.
For Houston, the machines were a no-brainer. “We are preparing these kids to be the next generation, encouraging them to get these practices right for success,” he said, adding that this is the first laundry room in California at a unified school district in Oakland. “When some of the kids are coming to school with smelly clothes and then have to go into a classroom and get teased, that makes them not want to go to school,” Houston said.
The East Oakland elementary school serves predominantly low-income students, with 73 percent Latino and 20 percent African-American.
The East Oakland Beautification Council raised over $13,000 with the help from the AEG Oakland Community Foundation, which sponsored building the laundry room for students. It opened on September 21 and already has proven its worth. Absenteeism stood at 13 percent the week before the laundry opened and is now at 8.6 percent.
Staff members volunteer to wash students’ uniforms every Friday at no charge and hand their clothes back to them the same day. Houston said he is now looking at other areas in Alameda County that need a washer and dryer as much as East Oakland schools.
EnCompass Academy welcomes in-person or mailed donations of any kinds, in particular, scent-free laundry detergent to keep the laundry room running and loaner clothes for students. For volunteer information, see here.