Columbia Heights elementary school to require uniforms

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 23, 2013 - 1:19 PM

Parents at a Columbia Heights elementary school supported a uniform requirement by a margin of 2 to 1 in a survey.

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From left, and in their uniforms, Columbia Academy eighth-grader Delejah Frazier and seventh-grader Tywana Robertson had lunch at the Columbia Heights school.

Photo: Bruce Bisping , Star Tribune

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This year’s “must-have” fashion for kindergartner Izabella Guerrero is Hello Kitty. After seeing her classmates at Valley View Elementary model their Hello Kitty gear, she asked her parents for the same.

Frequent requests like that can exhaust a family’s budget and parents’ patience.

That’s one reason Izabella’s mother, Stephanie Kilpatrick Guerrero, supports a new uniform requirement for the Columbia Heights public elementary school.

“You can never keep up with the Joneses or the Hernandezes,” said Guerrero, who also teaches at Valley View.

Starting next fall, Valley View’s more than 500 students will wear gold or navy polo shirts and khaki or navy pants and skirts. Parents lobbied for the requirement, and the administration agreed to it after two out of three of the school’s families surveyed supported it.

Columbia Academy, the district’s middle school, established a uniform two years ago, also after parents suggested it.

“Hundreds of people are really excited about it,” said Nicole Halabi, Columbia Heights district director of student services. “It’s really a cost saving for families. They don’t have to argue with their kids about what they are wearing in the morning. It looks really crisp and nice.”

Now parents at the district’s other elementary schools are toying with the idea, Halabi said.

Uniform requirements at Minnesota public schools aren’t unheard of, but it’s unusual.

The Minnesota Department of Education doesn’t track uniform requirements because it’s a local school board decision. Typically, public charter schools are more likely to embrace uniforms, said state Education Department spokeswoman Charlene Briner.

“I think there is a perception among some parents that uniforms might help establish a climate of order in school and help with classroom management,” Briner said.

Guerrero, who has a kindergartner and a fourth-grader, figures she’ll save $300 a year on back-to-school shopping. The polos cost $10 a piece. An optional fleece jacket costs $20. Navy or khaki pants and skirts can be purchased at a variety of retailers, including Old Navy, Wal-Mart or even a thrift store. No cargos or skinny-style pants are allowed, and no sagging, or wearing pants below the waist.

The polos, with an embroidered globe logo, are already on sale, and some children are wearing them now. Guerrero’s children modeled the new uniforms for a photos to be shared with other parents. She said she was a little surprised by their reaction when they put on the new clothes.

“They look adorable, and they acted so professional,” Guerrero said. “My son, he was just beaming from ear to ear. He said, ‘I just feel so important wearing this.’ ”

Teachers are not required to wear uniforms, but many, including Guerrero, plan to buy a few easy, wash-and-wear uniform polos and a fleece jacket for themselves.

Fashion distraction

Guerrero, who is on Valley View’s uniform committee, said several factors fueled the decision to go to uniforms.

“A lot of our students have families that have gone to school outside the United States, specifically Latin America. That is the standard there. All public schools have uniforms,” Guerrero said.

Fashion can be a distraction at school, many parents contend.

“A lot of parents were voicing their opinions about leveling the playing field and having kids focus a bit more on learning instead of what they’re wearing. And I think it will help create a calmness in the building and be one less thing students need to worry about.”

The school is establishing funds for low-income families who may struggle to buy uniforms. The uniform committee is also trying to raise $5,000 to provide every student one uniform polo free of charge.

At the middle school, the school hosts an annual swap session where parents can bring in outgrown uniform items and leave with new-to-them uniform shirts and pants. Valley View is likely to host a similar swap meet.

Valley View Principal Willie Fort said the decision to go to uniforms wasn’t made lightly. There were parent meetings, a survey and notices about the uniform proposal sent out. Fort wanted to make sure a majority of families truly supported uniforms. About 90 percent of the school’s 400 families weighed in, with a majority favoring uniforms.

The Columbia Heights school board approved the uniform mandate at Valley View in January.

“I feel good about the decision,” Fort said. “We had a pretty comprehensive process. A high number of our families had the opportunity to give their input. I feel good about that. It was a decision driven by parents who felt empowered.”

Students who show up out of a uniform will most likely be given a loaner uniform to wear for the day. School officials are still working out the final details.

Carrie Hepokoski, who will have three children at Valley View, said uniforms will foster a sense of unity and school spirit.

“This makes people notice we do have a great school,” Hepokoski said.

 

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804

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