October 21, 2014

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The purpose of schools’ code: Dress for success

LORAIN — Victoria Raymos’ face scrunches up in disgust when the idea of wearing red polo shirts and dress pants to school comes up.

It’s not that she minds donning the school uniform as a sophomore at Lorain Admiral King High School in the fall, it’s just that her own clothes are so much cuter. But she finally came to terms with the new attire a few weeks ago and said she’ll grin and bear it.

COURTESY LORAIN SCHOOLS
Uniformed students walk with Washington Elementary School Principal Barb Kapucinski (center) near the end of last school year.

“At first I thought they were ugly, but I tried them on a couple times and I liked them,” she said. “At least, I didn’t think they were all bad.”

That seems to be the sentiment of most students who are preparing to cloak themselves in attire similar to their classmates this year. Five schools — Admiral King and Southview high schools, Whittier and Longfellow middle schools and Lowell Elementary — have chosen to adopt a dress code for the upcoming school year.

General Johnnie Wilson Middle, Washington Elementary, Garfield Elementary and Fairhome Alternative schools already have uniforms, and the remaining schools are expected to follow suit in the next few years.

Principals and supervisors at each school decide if they want their students to wear uniforms, and most
created committees of students and community members to discuss the topic. Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said if the decision were hers, she would have probably requested that uniforms be implemented throughout the district because of what they bring to education.

“I certainly think they can help to eliminate peer issues that students have,” she said. “I equate it to the military. They’re all in uniform, and everyone has so much respect for them. Now, I know this isn’t the military, but I do believe we’re setting a standard.”

Most students took a bit more convincing.

But eventually, even though they complained about not being able to throw on that pair of designer jeans they just bought or shirt that exemplifies their style, they came to terms with the change.

“I think it’s good for the kids that need to wear uniforms,” said Ashley Christman, an honors student who participated in multiple school clubs last year, including student council, Key Club and National Honor Society. “It doesn’t bother me.”

School uniforms in Lorain

Where you can buy them: Kohl’s, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Target, Lake Screen Printing Inc., Value City and most department stores.

If you need financial assistance: Kohl’s and Kmart offer a 10 percent discount on uniforms, and the county Workforce Development Agency will work with parents in need. If you require assistance, contact Vivan Alexander at (440) 284-4664.

What happens if you don’t wear them: Dress-code violations are level one offenses, which means they won’t result in out-of-school suspensions except for habitual offenders. Detentions and in-school suspensions will be given out after the first warning.

Most parents also like the new uniforms. While some are still angry because they feel the school district sprung the new dress code on them — the district sent out letters about the change in February — they agree that uniforms can only help their children learn.

“I think they’re great. The children can actually focus on their learning instead of what Susie is wearing,” said Jill Galloway, whose son will be entering Admiral King as a freshman after being homeschooled his whole life.

The uniforms were one of the reasons she wanted her son to go to Admiral King, she said.

Tom Tucker, principal of the Renaissance small school at Lorain Admiral King, said teachers and staff wanted uniforms after seeing one too many males wearing their pants low and both genders competing with each other over who can afford the best clothing.

Tucker said one thing parents don’t have to worry about is brands and styles, because as long as students follow the color and dress guidelines, staff will not be picky.

The point wasn’t to make dressing difficult for parents and students, he said. Rather, it was to create a professional atmosphere.

“Basically if the pants aren’t hanging off their butts and I can’t see their underwear, we’ll be fine,” he said. “We’re trying to train these kids for the real world.”

Stephen Sturgill, another principal at Admiral King, said students are focusing too much on areas other than their education, and he’s hoping uniforms will help change that. He said students can still express themselves with their shoes if they want, because the new uniforms don’t govern what goes on students’ feet.

“We want to take away the pressure of dressing,” he said. “We’re trying to provide a positive impression of Admiral King, and that’s one way we’re doing it.”

His goals will likely be achieved, according to parents and students from other schools that require uniforms.

At the Arts Academy on Leavitt Road in Lorain, a kindergarten through 10th-grade community school, uniforms have almost become part of the lesson plan.

“Students sometimes ask why they can’t wear jeans, and we tell them, ‘Because we’re training you,’ ” said Alexis Rainbow, founder of the school. “ ‘Just look at our leaders,’ we tell them. Normally, you don’t see leaders day-to-day wearing jeans.”

Marisa Alloway, 11, who attended Meister Elementary two years ago, said she enjoyed her first year wearing uniforms at the Arts Academy.

“Not everyone’s competing, and I like that,” she said. “Everyone wears the same thing, so that doesn’t matter.” 

Her mom, Susan Hamilton, said that as a mother of three, having uniforms helps her avoid buying expensive school clothes.

“She likes all the high-end fashion, but with three kids, that’s not happening,” Hamilton said. “I just buy a few uniforms, and she’s done with school clothes.”

Contact Adam Wright at 653-6257 or awright@chroniclet.com.