Can khaki slacks and polo shirts improve education?
Bill Clinton thinks so. So do Earl Nye and Jan Studer.
The two teachers hope that Boundary County Junior High School will become the first public school in Idaho to require school uniforms.
They see uniform dress as a way to foster school pride despite a dramatically inadequate campus. They want to reduce peer pressure and to let children know that school is a place to get down to business, not make a fashion statement.
“A lot of people from the president on down think it’s a good idea,” Nye said Wednesday.
Not among them are a lot of young folks whose definition of “awesome” includes Raiders jackets and Air Jordans.
“It would take away my personal rights,” said seventh-grader Jason Wasinger. “Our clothes are how we express ourselves.”
“It will take our personality away,” argued classmate Sarah Niewierowski.
School officials are surveying residents to get their opinions. If most people like the idea, Principal Terry Sherven will recommend uniforms to the school board this spring. Trustees will have the final say on whether to proceed with the experiment.
The Boundary County Junior High staff could fill several blackboards with its reasons for supporting uniforms. The biggest ones are:
Behavior. Big-city gangs aren’t painting graffiti on Main Street, but drug use and teenage crime are on the rise. The number of juvenile probation officers has doubled; there was an execution-style killing and related burglary ring last year.
Sherven shook his head when describing a tape he had taken away from a youngster. It contained songs such as “Stripped, Raped and Strangled.”
Uniforms, he says, would help set a disciplined tone which would help keep such influences at bay. They also would identify young people on the school grounds who are not enrolled.
School spirit. The junior high occupies “temporary” buildings that everyone there fears are permanent. Most of the classrooms are in four barracks-style buildings. There are no hallways. The gym and auditorium are what’s left of a long-ago high school, and may be condemned. The playground is a muddy field, the office is in an old senior citizens center.
Nice shirts, neat slacks, fleece jackets emblazoned with the Badgers logo - those can only help foster pride, the teachers said. They cited experience at other schools around the country.
“The initial reaction from students is against it, but after wearing uniforms for awhile, they’re not anxious to take them off,” Studer said.
Peer pressure. Sherven got a phone call from a mother whose son would never admit to his friends that he liked the idea of uniforms. But the boy wanted the principal to know he’d be relieved not to have to feel pressure over the way he dresses.
No one can be teased about their “un-cool” clothes if everyone is dressed as a “preppy or a nerd,” Sherven said with a laugh.
Cost. Some students feel badly because they can’t afford to dress like their peers. Studer said that’s particularly hard “for a young, budding girl who would like to look as nice as she possibly can.”
Based on clothing company estimates, the principal said two winter and two summer uniforms would cost about $100. A logo jacket would be $25 or $45, depending on weight.
Supportive parents are talking about a uniform exchange, and help for people who can’t afford the initial investment. Most people who look at the cost of uniforms know they could spend that much on a single pair of designer shoes, Sherven said.
Girls could wear skirts or pants. That’s a relief to eighth-grader Marie Truesdell, who likes the idea of uniforms “as long as you don’t have to wear a dress.”
“Kids wouldn’t come around trying to dress like a fashion show,” she said.
Truesdell, Lisa Hurst and Monica Thomas all think uniforms would be OK. That, they said with giggles, is due to the fact that they’re in Mr. Nye’s class.
Nye is eager for uniforms, to say the least. He’s researched the issue over the past six months.
A former military man who wears blazers and ties at work, Nye hands out copies of a quote from someone the kids can look up to. A guy named Johnson.
“…it was always the uniform that made me feel special - in high school, college and the pros. That’s why I never sat on the bench in street clothes for games in which I wouldn’t play because of injury. When I walked into the locker room on my first day as a Laker and saw my gold uniform hanging there, I cried. Off the floor I’ve always been Earvin. But in uniform I was Magic.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PRINCIPAL SAYS UNIFORMS IMPROVED SCHOOL Principal John German looked around and saw kids who were “draggin’, saggin’ and laggin.”’ So, starting in 1995, the 900 students at Seattle’s South Shore Middle School were ordered to wear uniforms. The next year, German declared the experiment a success. “The demeanor in the school has improved 98 percent, truancy and tardies are down, and we haven’t had one reported incident of theft.” Students who didn’t want to wear uniforms had to attend another school. Only five did so. The U.S. Department of Education has gathered similar reports from around the country. One frequently cited example is Long Beach Calif., where 58,000 elementary and middle school students have been wearing uniforms since 1994. In the year following the new policy, overall school crime dropped 36 percent; fights, 51 percent; sex offenses, 74 percent; weapons offenses, 50 percent; vandalism, 18 percent. For schools or districts considering uniforms, the Department of Education gives this advice: Get parents involved from the beginning; protect students’ religious and other rights of expression; choose between a voluntary or mandatory policy; decide whether to have an “opt out” provision; don’t require students to wear a message; assist families that need financial help; treat uniforms as part of an overall safety program. - Julie Titone
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