A 2nd Everett public school plans to put pupils in uniforms

Advocates say uniforms help increase self-esteem and bridge the socio-economic gap.

EVERETT — Come fall, students at a second public school in Snohomish County could be wearing uniforms.

More than two decades ago, Whittier Elementary School in north Everett became the first.

At the time and periodically since then, other schools explored the idea, but none followed through.

Now, Hawthorne Elementary, whose attendance boundary touches Whittier, is moving closer to requiring uniforms. The plan has the backing of the school’s PTA and principal, and enthusiasm of many staff members.

Judy McWilliams, a third-grade teacher who has worked at Hawthorne for 30 years, anticipated her campus would follow Whittier’s example a long time ago. She said the goal is to prepare students for the future, not just academically but socially as well.

“It’s dressing for success,” she said.

Whittier was the lone county school to join a movement begun in 1994 when the Long Beach, California, school district became the first to require uniforms. In 1996, President Clinton endorsed the idea in a speech, and many schools across the country followed the Long Beach lead.

Advocates say the uniforms help increase students’ self-esteem while instilling school pride, and most importantly, bridge the socio-economic gap among students. Critics of public school uniforms say there is no proof uniforms would improve academic results or reduce discipline problems. Some say uniforms infringe on students’ freedom of expression.

For Hawthorne, where nearly 80 percent of students qualify for a free or subsidized lunch based on family income, the key challenge is raising enough money to help pay for the uniforms. The proposal hinges on finances, said Joyce Stewart, deputy superintendent of the Everett School District.

The district is reaching out for donations to raise between $30,000 and $35,000 to make it possible, Stewart said. One anonymous donor already has pledged $15,000. Line-item donations earmarked for Hawthorne uniforms also can be made through the Everett Schools Foundation.

“My experience is if there is a need for a child in this community, there is a way to get that need met,” Stewart said. “People step up in this community.”

Marci Cooper, office manager at Whittier, has had two daughters attend the school and wear the uniforms. She believes they help establish a school culture.

“They get to look like everybody else,” she said. “They get to fit in. It creates a sense of pride and belonging.”

Whittier provides financial assistance and free uniforms for families who qualify based on financial need. The school holds annual gently-used-uniform sales. Outfitting students in uniforms is much less expensive for families than buying the latest back-to-school fashions for kids, uniform advocates say.

“We can buy a pair of pants, a polo and a school sweatshirt for around $30,” Cooper said.

Also appealing to parents, and students, is the easy, no-hassle way of getting ready for school in the morning.

The simplicity of a uniform appeals to Rene Acevedo Rodriguez, Hawthorne’s family resource specialist. He believes uniforms could help with tardiness and make mornings easier on parents. He has seen his own elementary school-age daughter squander valuable minutes trying to figure out what to wear.

He attended public school in south Mexico where he wore a uniform that included a white sweater, even on sweltering days. Students were required to keep them clean.

Hawthorne’s uniforms would be less formal with color options, he said.

Stewart is hopeful that Hawthorne will get its uniforms and the idea will be noticed elsewhere.

“I see this taking off,” she said. “If we do this well, it will take off to other schools.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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