A high school in Phoenix, Arizona that serves teens who have struggled at other schools has added a laundry room to improve student attendance and increase self-esteem while offering a basic need that many of them lack due to being homeless.
Maya High School's principal John Anderson, told local TV station KTVK “Over 30% of our students are categorized as homeless,” he said. “They may have slept in a park or slept on a friend’s floor or couch — on a nightly basis.” Anderson also noticed that students did not want to come to school because they didn’t have clean clothes.
Anderson explained that a former student inspired him to make the laundry room a reality. The student was in a bad home situation, and when he explained it to Anderson, the principal gave him detergent and change to go to a laundromat. Anderson recalls, “I thought to myself, ‘Here’s this young man who is coming to school smelling like cat urine, knowing that as a high school student — a teenager — he just wants his diploma so bad that he’s willing to do that.’ It tore me up and it was the final kicker to seek out getting a student-access laundry room in our building.”
Students have commented that being able to wear clean clothes helps build self-esteem and Anderson agrees, saying “We make them believe in themselves and to want to do it for themselves. The laundry room has created a buzz. Students know that we put our money where our mouth is as far as Maya being a community and saying we are all in.”
Maya High School, like many schools around the country, struggles to find funding to operate and offer extracurricular services and activities. The laundry room was funded through a grant supported by a management group.
The Department of Justice estimates that every year, over 1.7 million teens experience homelessness in the US. According to estimates by the Urban Institute, nearly 1 in 5 youths under the age of 18 will run away at least once. DoSomething.org offers a flyer that can be posted with info and resources to help homeless and runaway teens.