Illing proposes uniform-dress code

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Tue., Mar. 1, 2011
The uniform-dress code initiative at Illing Middle School is Principal Troy Monroe's pilot project. Photo by Martha Marteney.
The uniform-dress code initiative at Illing Middle School is Principal Troy Monroe's pilot project. Photo by Martha Marteney.

According to Illing Middle School Principal Dr. Troy Monroe, the timing is right for the implementation of a uniform-dress initiative. Several meetings have been hosted at Illing for parents and community members to learn about the initiative, which could become a pilot program for other schools in the district.

At the public forums in January and February, Monroe presented background on the initiative, describing the need for the uniform-dress code, reviewing research on this topic, outlining pros and cons for the initiative, sharing cost factors and providing examples of the clothing items. 

“We are looking for a uniform-look, versus a uniform,” clarified Monroe in an interview with the ReminderNews. A uniform-dress code is a comfortable, more relaxed look, he said, rather than a traditional uniform of a jacket and tie for boys and skirts for girls.

“The biggest thing I learned from earlier experience is to give opportunities for the community to be involved,” said Monroe. If parents and community members do not come to the meetings, he said he assumes that people support the initiative. He has also had some people come to the meetings who are unsure, and leave the meetings with enough information and knowledge to be able to support the initiative.

Parents, students, faculty, community members and local business owners were encouraged to take part in a survey about the uniform-dress initiative. Surveys were distributed in the school’s newsletter, and the online survey was available through the school’s website. More than 300 responses were received, with 85 percent in favor of a uniform-dress code. “The staff is behind this 100 percent,” said Monroe.

Monroe said he has seen the benefits of having a uniform-dress code during his time working in magnet schools. He added that he saw the benefit of giving the students set expectations. “We’re hearing from our counterparts that they’re experiencing successes,” noted Monroe. “It’s finally catching on.”

He first brought the idea to Superintendent Kathleen Ouellette as a pilot program for the district. After reviewing the idea further with Illing’s Principal Advisory Committee, which is comprised of teachers, staff and parents, it was decided to make the initiative a major goal for this school year.

The chief reasons for implementing a uniform-dress code are safety, reducing economic barriers, minimizing distractions from learning and providing positive expectations. Illing already requires the students to wear identification badges, which are color-coded to the school grade. The uniform-dress code would provide another layer of identifying the school’s students. 

“There’s no secret that economic barriers are an issue in our community,” said Monroe. According to Monroe, many students are fixated on designer labels.  For families who cannot afford these name brands, it is difficult for the student to fit in.

Illing currently has a dress code, which specifies what the students cannot wear, such as baggy pants, revealing cut-outs in jeans and spaghetti-strap shirts.  When the students wear such clothes, it creates multi-level distractions, Monroe said. The teacher must first address the violation in the classroom, creating a distraction from learning for all the classmates. The student is then sent to administration, which removes the student from the learning environment. The distractions may ripple out to the parent, if the student must be taken home to change or the parent needs to drop off alternative clothing. 

“I think another big reason why this is so important is school is supposed to be preparing kids for life, and for high school,” explained Monroe, adding that the uniform-dress code sets positive expectations for how to dress as young men and women. “We have a perfect opportunity to start teaching kids what society expects of them,” he said. He also views this as an opportunity to project the message that Manchester students look ready to learn.

Examples of the uniform-dress clothing would include white, blue or green polo-style shirts; khaki, blue or black pants; and “skorts” for girls. Brown or black shoes, or white sneakers would complete the uniform-dress. “We need to give the kids options within the uniform-dress code,” said Monroe. Options might include a fleece or sweater.

The estimated cost for the shirts and pants is $15 each. “I don’t think cost will be an issue,” said Monroe. The cost for five shirts and pants would be $150. With shoes and perhaps a fleece or sweater, the entire uniform-dress could be purchased for approximately $250. “I think it’s an initiative that will be very affordable,” added Monroe. He is also considering selling gently-used uniform-dress clothing at the school store.

On the sample clothes, there is an emblem with a ram, which was designed by an Illing student. This was created as part of the positive behavior support system. “The ram horn is part of that visual matrix to describe expectations for behavior,” explained Monroe.

Naturally, noted Monroe, most students are reluctant to wear the uniform-dress, because the students do not want to all look the same. He hopes to be able to involve more of the student body in the discussion, and eventually in the selection of optional items. Monroe wants the students to know, “If this decision is made by the adults, it’s with your best interests in mind.”

Monroe will be presenting the initiative to the Board of Education’s Curriculum and Instruction Subcommittee on March 7. Based on the feedback from that meeting, Monroe may have additional questions to answer before bringing the matter to the full BOE. Policy decisions regarding the implementation of the uniform-dress code and enforcement would come from the BOE.

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