With money raised, uniforms are a go at Everett elementary

Hawthorne Elementary will be the second public school in the county to require student uniforms.

EVERETT — The money has been raised, setting the stage for Hawthorne Elementary to become the second public school in Snohomish County to require school uniforms.

“We have the commitments,” said Joyce Stewart, the Everett School District’s deputy superintendent. “We’ll have the money to do it.”

School officials said in May that there was support for uniforms at Hawthorne if they could raise money to help low-income families afford them. The school district reached out for donations of between $30,000 and $35,000 and set about creating a system that would provide financial support over time. An anonymous $15,000 donation was key to the campaign.

Hawthorne will join Whittier Elementary, also in north Everett, as the two public schools in the county with uniforms. Whittier has had them for more than two decades. It joined a movement begun in 1994 when the Long Beach, California, school district became the first to require uniforms.

Advocates say the uniforms help increase students’ self-esteem while instilling school pride, and most importantly, bridge the socioeconomic 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.

Terry Smith, who attended Hawthorne as a child 60 years ago, decided to chip in to the cause. He did so only after meeting in person with Stewart, Principal Celia O’Connor-Weaver and Assistant Principal Valerie Yob and asking questions. He said he first needed to be convinced the motivation was to remove perceptions of socioeconomic disparity and not to use uniforms as a means of enforcing conformity.

“After talking with all of them, I was greatly impressed and plan to follow up and … help them raise money through the summer,” he said.

For Hawthorne, where nearly 80 percent of students qualify for a free or subsidized lunch based on family income, the key challenge was raising enough money to help pay for the uniforms. The idea already had the backing of the school’s PTA and faculty.

About 500 students attend the school.

The goal now is to find volunteers and to continue raising money to make the program sustainable in the years ahead, Stewart said. Line-item donations earmarked for Hawthorne uniforms now may be made through the Everett Public Schools Foundation.

Marci Cooper, office manager at Whittier, has worked with families needing uniforms for many years. Her children wore them when they were in elementary school.

“It’s so much less expensive than buying regular clothes,” she said. “I think a lot of people will kind of balk at it at first, and then when they get used to it they will say, ‘This is so great.’”

A pair of pants, a polo and a school sweatshirt run around $30, she said.

Whittier typically runs two big uniform sales each year before school starts.

The school also provides financial assistance and free uniforms for families who qualify based on financial need.

Her advice to Hawthorne: Communicate expectations clearly and make sure families know what articles of clothing constitute a school uniform so there is no confusion.

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

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