Beloit (SPECTRUM NEWS) - A program at a Wisconsin high school is lowering truancy, supporting students with disabilities, and giving kids job skills - all through loads of laundry. ​

Laundry is part of the school day for some students at Beloit Memorial High School. Four years ago, special education teacher Lori Lange heard a story on the radio. “A high school had started to reduce truancy from students, they started bringing students in to do their own laundry,” Lange said. It all revolved around the stigma and shame of not having clean clothes to wear: if a student had clean clothes, they were more likely to show up for class. 

She integrated that idea into the special education department, calling it Loads to Success. Students with differing abilities teach one another how to do laundry. It helps them build life skills, job skills, and confidence. “We are seeing students that are graduating with an increased amount of job skills, and are getting viable work employment afterwards,” said Lange.

Destiny Owens is in eleventh grade. Because she has impaired vision, she uses her hands to guide Markhii Nolan, helping him fold towels. “I get to make friends when they come to lean, ‘cause I get to teach them how to do it,” Owens said.

Loads to Success has majorly expanded since it first started. The first year, they did 35 people’s laundry. This year, they’ve done 500 loads. “It has really increased and taken off,” Lange said. “We know that we’re impacting, we know that what we’re doing is important.”

There are now lots of people the program supports by cleaning their clothes. Anyone in the Beloit School District can drop off a load of laundry to be washed. “Any family right now that is struggling in the district [can bring their clothes],” said Lange. They also wash all the uniforms for school athletic teams, all the clothing for Meals on Wheels recipients, and clothes for people currently in shelters.

Students without disabilities participate too. Lange said it’s made an impact on students’ relationships in school; there’s more of a connection between kids with disabilities and kids without.

The goal is to help kids grow, gain some independence, and contribute to their community. “We’ve taken a population of kids that are used to having things done for them, and we put them in a position where they can now do something for somebody else,” Lange said. “They can be active contributing members to our society.”

Lange believes the program has had a positive impact on truancy.

She wants to see Loads to Success grow and expand to other schools across Wisconsin. 

Loads to Success relies entirely on donations, it doesn’t use any funds from the district. Right now their washers and dryers are scattered across three rooms, which can be time-inefficient and make it exhausting for some of the students with disabilities just to get around. They’re raising money for one designated laundry room, already picked out at Beloit Memorial.

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