Greater Sudbury high school washes away laundry stress

Confederation Secondary School has four laundry machines ready to be installed. The machines will help the one third of students who say they'd use free laundry services at school if available.

Community pitched in for four laundry machines to help struggling students at Confederation Secondary School

Two washing machines and two dryers are ready to be installed at Confederation Secondary School. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

There are four laundry machines buried beneath costumes and wigs in Confederation Secondary School's drama dressing room. They're not installed yet, but the machines are slowly working toward helping students cope with poverty in the high school and the community.

"There's a large section of the population that maybe doesn't have the money to go down to the laundromat, or it's not as accessible," Jesse Brooks says.

"Students may not be able to hop a bus because they may not have the money to hop a bus with their laundry or they may not have parents to drive them depending on their family situation."

Brooks is a teacher at CSS. He helped lead the fall poverty drive earlier this year that brought in two washers, two dryers, hundreds of clothing items and $3,700 for clothes and food services.

The need for more services became clear after CSS surveyed its student population. Brooks says about one third of students reported they'd use food, clothing and laundry services at school if available.

A high school in Sudbury has been offering laundry facilities to its students 0:34

Judgment-free laundry room

Lauren Knox, a Grade 11 student at CSS, says she's seen students who might benefit from the laundry services once they're up and running.

Knox was a key student in the poverty drive, and says she wants the laundry room to be a judgment-free zone for students experiencing tough times.

"As a teenager, you're just looking to fit in and it's a hard step in your life to get through," Knox says.

"So if you're on that lower end, it's hard to step up and say this is what's happening to me because you just want to fit in, you don't want people to judge you. This is going to be student run, and that's what this is about...being a community and helping each other out."

Essential services at school

Northern Ontario's economy has changed, Brooks says. Families may only have one income rather than two, or are being forced to decide between priorities.

"Kids are maybe not getting the same access to food or laundry as they have in the past," he says. "Those things might go by the wayside when there are other necessities such as hydro — there's a big arc in hydro these days. Those things become primary and [food and laundry] becomes secondary."

Because there's such a large number of students who are vulnerable, Brooks says teachers need to change the way they view their jobs.

"School is more of a home now, and we're looking for ways to serve students further than we have in the past," he says. "Before, it was just instruction-based. Now it's community-based schooling, and making sure people are at home when they come here."

The next step is to raise about $1,000 for the machine installation fees. Brooks says they're waiting to see what the result of the Rainbow School Board's accommodation review is before finding a permanent laundry room in the school.