School uniforms for Worcester Public School students?

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

“ If it means that the school rooms will be more orderly and more disciplined and that our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside, instead of what they’re wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear uniforms.” – President Bill Clinton

Parochial and private schools have a long history of using school uniforms, but now across the country school uniforms are gaining favor. Morem than 10 states have passed laws allowing public schools to implement uniform policies. In Massachusetts it’s a voluntary school uniform policy and prior to implementation, a majority of the school site council members and the school principal must approve the school’s uniform policy. Since 2006 Worcester’s Jacob Hiatt Magnet Elementary School has had school uniforms; the policy has been supported by the parents.

Hiatt School Principal Patricia Gaudette said having a school uniform policy places the major emphasis on education. She feels it builds a positive perspective about their role, as it takes pressure off the students as to who is wearing the “coolest trends” in clothing. She went on to say that when students come to school wearing their school uniforms, they are responsible for their learning and take ownership of their day.

This year the uniform concept is moving forward in many other Worcester Public Schools. Woodland Academy and Sullivan Middle School have had parents sign on for school uniforms, and the students started wearing their uniforms on the first day of this school year. Now, two other schools are in the process of establishing a uniform policy. At a recent Worcester School Committee meeting, the Chandler Elementary and Union Hill school parents indicated they would like their children in school uniforms. Their request was approved by the School Committee.

When visiting many of the schools that have implemented a uniform policy, I asked parents why they like it. A very common comment from parents was that their children no longer waste time fussing about what to wear to school. Most stated that it makes good economic sense and that there is less hassle at home as to what the child will wear to school. As one parent stated, “School mornings are rushed enough. By having a uniform ready it takes the stress out of the decision making.”

Another mother felt that the economic status of students has being reduced. She felt students would be able to judge others by their character and not by their clothes. It avoids the chance of a conflict over clothing. All parents to whom I spoke felt that with the economy the way it is families would be able to save money on clothing by purchasing uniforms. In addition, uniforms are a special money saver during the growing years, when children outgrow their clothes so quickly.

According to several writings on this topic, reasons why uniforms should be allowed in the schools:

• Reduces peer pressure

• Increases school pride

• Gears focus more to learning

• Wearing of gang-related attire reduced

• Assists in discipline problems

• Creates a more work-like-atmosphere

• Less distraction

• Emphasizes membership and group identity, fostering a community spirit. 

• Expense (money saver)

Many educators are convinced that school uniforms do make a difference. One principal in Baltimore stated, “There’s research that shows a correlation between appropriate dress and academic performance. … Students will not be distracted with who is wearing what brand of jeans, shoes or shirts. Students can focus on learning which is why they are there.”

In general schools in have found that students’ performance and behavior do improve. There is also a sense of unity among the students, for everyone belongs here. As one teacher affirmed, “It’s not the wearing of the uniform, as much as the shared vision and commitment to making the school a better place.”

Past studies have shown that some poor students would miss school because their best outfit was not clean. They just couldn’t go to the school and face students who were dressed better. Other students were the source of bullying, if they didn’t have nice clothes to wear.

So what does research say? The Principals’ Partnership, a program from the Union Pacific Foundation, had, like most research on this subject, a mixed bag of answers. Research stated that when students have continuous negative experiences in school, dropping out and delinquency tend to be the common responses. The role of schools is to provide a positive, safe and secure learning environment where students feel protected enough to explore and develop their intellectual and social competencies. Hard evidence that proves the wearing of uniforms provides a direct link to better academic achievement is not conclusive. However, there is evidence that supports there are fewer discipline problems/referrals and violence as well as higher attendance rates since the implementation of a uniform policy. What appears to have been overlooked in the data analysis is the effect of other programs that are often being implemented at the same time as the uniform policy and may also have a direct impact on the discipline and attendance issues.

Common sense tells us that merely putting a blue shirt on kids will not transform them into model students. It is more important to provide an atmosphere where rules are clear and enforced; where expectations create attainable challenges; and where parents are involved in their children’s education. These will boost our children’s success far more than any uniform.

However, if school uniforms are the catalyst for motivating the students to feel part of the school’s mission, projects an atmosphere of pride and equality, if the uniform gives them the self-esteem so needed in our students to succeed and if the parents want their child to wear a uniform and develop a sense of unity that everyone belongs here, then I say why not!

Good luck to those schools and parents that want to make this change. I certainly support their efforts.

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