Sept. 6, 2009— -- With many students back in school, and H1N1 flu fears on the rise, messages to kids to wash up are everywhere. From public service announcements featuring "Sesame Street's" loveable Elmo, to Pennsylvania Avenue, where President Obama himself recently pushed personal hygiene.
"We need everyone to take the common-sense steps that we know can make a difference. Stay home if you're sick. Wash your hands frequently," Obama said on Sept. 1, from the Rose Garden.
But are kids listening? "Good Morning America Weekend" headed to Washington, D.C.'s Lafayette Elementary School to find out. The team arrived with an experiment for David Gregal's fifth-grade class.
The students were asked to coat their hands in a clear lotion that can only be seen under a black light. The experiment was to see how much of it would be left on their hands by the end of the day -- less lotion would mean cleaner hands.
The kids applied the lotion and immediately commented on the smell. Some liked it, and some didn't.
We followed them throughout the day, into their reading, math and science classes, then to recess and lunch. We observed as they touched everything -- from book and pencils, banisters, sports equipment, and of course, each other and their own bodies.
Some washed their hands, and others used hand sanitizer. But did they cleanse well enough? At the end of the school day, it was time to test.
Kids Don't Wash Hands Well Enough
When the students lined up with their hands out, the black light revealed that most of them still had plenty of lotion on their hands. Some had even spread it to their clothes and face.
Joey Horvath, a fifth grader, saw her hands still had a lot of lotion, and she even got a little on her forehead.
"I did wash my hands today," she explained, but obviously she din't wash well enough.
Out of 25 students, just two had washed well.
"See, I don't want to have dirty hands -- that's why I wash my hands," said fifth grader Jamhari Sydnor. "I don't want to be germy."
Even Gregal had quite a bit of lotion residue on his hands.
"I usually wash my hands more during the day, but I was really busy today, so I only washed my hands once," he said. "I also noticed I didn't get the back of my hands."
These students know the dangers of germs. They had all heard about the H1N1 flu. Each had received a letter from the school about how to properly cleanse their hands, instructing them to use soap, hot water, and lather for at least 20 seconds. An easy way to keep time is to sing the happy birthday or alphabet song as you scrub.
But knowing that and doing it are clearly two different things. The experiment proved that when it comes to keeping their hands clean, many kids may still have a lot to learn.