School uniforms make contribution, some say, as age-old debate continues

Posted December 7, 2016


MINEOLA, N.Y. — Many people argue that having kids wear uniforms detracts from the very purpose that kids attend school — to learn — and hinders a kid’s ability to express themselves and be creative.

Christine Napolitano, president of the School Board for the Mineola School District in New York, believes that the Mineola school community does not have the traction to institute school uniforms, and accordingly, has no such policy.

“The idea for school uniforms,” she said, “seems to take route in troubled public school communities, something that we do not see our community as. We certainly have challenges, but I don’t think a school uniform, at this point in time, would lend itself to our district, and would probably result in backlash. I don’t think the effort to force students to wear uniforms would be worth the upheaval it would cause, at least at this moment in time. As long as our students are pursuing excellence in all aspects of their student life, and dressing appropriately, we are happy with that.”

School uniforms debate (by Francesca Ciuffo) from Our National Parks on Vimeo.

Catherine Tan, a student who graduated from a New York area public school with no uniforms and who went on to a Catholic high school with a strict uniform policy, believes that she was more creative and productive when she wore her uniform than when she wore regular clothes to class in her public school.

“I was able to express myself through my school work and personality instead of through superficial things like clothes, which are often based on someone’s socio-economic background,” she said.

Tan went on to say that taking away the decision of what to wear each day when she got dressed for school in the morning was a benefit to her because she could get up and think about her day rather than what to wear.

After discussing the issue with area teachers, it was obvious that they saw the differences that uniforms create in students as opposed to students who don’t wear uniforms. Nicole Chirco, a teacher at PS 34Q John Harvard Elementary in New York, said uniforms can have a positive impact.

“When I was a student, I went to a public school and did not have to wear a uniform. Sometimes students wore clothes that were not very appropriate for an educational scene. After teaching at public school that requires uniforms, I realized that the students act in a more professional manner and uniforms make my students realize the importance of school more than I did when I did not have to wear one,” she stated.

Phyllis Fradella, a parent of three children who were graduated from Catholic schools that had a uniform requirement, said uniforms improve the school experience.

“Students are more creative when wearing uniforms because they have to think of more unique and different ways to express themselves, which makes them think differently and more artistically. They can use cool nail polishes, hair styles, ties, pins, buttons, socks and scarves to introduce creativity into their uniform style,” Fradella stated.

From left, Maddie Laux, Taylor Gallart, and Sarah Hatoum in their school uniforms at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Md. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Hatoum).

Fradella added that she is grateful for sending her children to schools that require uniforms because everyone felt equal and she did not have to worry about her children being bullied because of the clothes they chose to wear.

One benefit of uniforms is that they save parents money on clothes and are cost-effective.

A parent does not have to worry about buying their son or daughter high-end designer clothes and children don’t have to worry about being bullied or judged for the clothes they are wearing.

This enables students to focus more on their studies instead of their clothes. It also makes it easier to get ready in the morning because you do not have to spend time choosing a different outfit every day.

Olga Martinez, director of admissions and marketing and communications coordinator for Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, a Catholic high school in Miami supports uniforms.

“I like that the students wear uniforms. As a marketer for the school, I think that it helps brand the school because people can identify students by just glancing at what they are wearing,” she stated. “From a practical perspective, they don’t have to think about what they are wearing in the morning, so their focus is more on relevant academics than what they look like at school.”

Professors at Oxford Brookes University in the UK conducted a study that offers evidence that uniforms are a major contributor in building up the feeling of pride and unity amongst students towards their institution.

When students leave school in uniform, the research indicated, they act as representatives in the nearby community, keeping their school’s name and perception of the school in the public eye. Uniform culture at school can help at-risk student to overcome their stress and feeling of loneliness, and make sure that they don’t become susceptible to mental illnesses and even suicide.

John McCutcheon, dean of Students at Kellenberg Memorial High School, a Catholic school on Long Island, N.Y., said uniforms are a helpful influence on his school.

“We wear uniforms at Kellenberg because it has a number of positive aspects. It creates a sense of school pride and unity because everybody is identified the same at the school and there is no peer pressure on what you are wearing, so you are distinguished by what you do as a person, not what you wear,” he stated.

“Students don’t have to worry about if they come from a lower-class family because everyone is dressed the same, so no one is distinguished on what they wear. You are who you are by how you do in school, your activities, how you respect your teachers, and your community service,” McCutcheon added

He also spoke about how it is less expensive and gets students ready for the real world because when you get a job, you have to look presentable, and that’s exactly what a uniform does.

From left, writer Francesca Ciuffo, Erin Connell, and Natalie Gallego at Kellenberg Memorial High School in New York. The uniform consisted of a white blouse, bowtie, blazer/senior sweater, and navy or gray skirt, with tights and penny loafer shoes (Photo by Catherine Tan).

Lisa Harrison, principle at Our Lady of Mercy Academy, an all-girl’s Catholic high school on Long Island, spoke about their uniform policy and the sense of security it brings to the school.

If someone walks in the building and is not wearing the same clothes as everybody else, it means that they do not belong and can be a threat.

Lauren Fralinger, a librarian at the University of Miami who specializes in education, also said that uniforms distinguish members from nonmembers so they make schools safer by identifying trespassers.

Fralinger continued by stating that there has not been much research on the topic, but there are some writers who have written their opinions on the topic and why they believe them to be true.

“Susan Kaiser, a writer who studied the social psychology of clothing, listed several benefits of school uniforms. She wrote about how uniforms improve discipline, increase respect for the teacher, promote group spirit, maintain academic standards through uniformity, ease the strain on family budgets, de-emphasize socioeconomic differences and eliminate the relationship between dress and school status,” Fralinger stated.

Based on a study she is familiar with, Fralinger said “One public middle school in Nevada implemented a school uniform policy and surveyed their students after the uniform policy was put in place. Students said that they noticed better disciplined students, less gang involvement and bullying, increases in safety, greater confidence, and greater self-esteem.”

Flynn & O’Hara Uniforms creates uniforms for private schools around the country. All schools under the Diocese of Rockville Center, N.Y., use this company.

Charlotte Flynn, one of the owners and operators of Flynn & O’Hara, said that “for Kellenberg Memorial High School, a blazer costs $150, a skirt costs $30, and a blouse costs $18. School uniforms are cost-effective and expected to last at least 180 days per year.”

Not inexpensive by any means, but when compared to the cost of a wardrobe where a student wears different clothes every day, it can be a real financial bargain.

From left, Mary Buckley and Julia Malave. Malave said that this uniform policy kept the students more polished and study-oriented (Photo courtesy of Julia Malave).

Flynn & O’Hara Co., believes that uniforms enhance performance. Flynn spoke about the attitude that a school uniform inspires in a student. It is believed that someone who is dressed in a more professional way will perform better in his or her role.

By dressing professionally, according to the Flynn & O’Hara website, students are more likely to be alert, motivated, focused, and eager to excel.

Beth Connell, a mother of students at a Catholic high school on Long Island, said she likes the prices and guarantees offered to customers.

“I love Flynn & O’Hara because they have a School Year Warranty and provide me with great prices for my children’s uniforms. Instead of having to worry about buying my children a new wardrobe every year, I just buy them two uniforms for school and it ends up being cheaper than buying them clothes that are ‘in’ and that everyone is wearing at public schools,” she stated. “It also puts everyone on an equal playing field. Some people can afford more clothes or better quality clothes than others, so by requiring a uniform, students enter the school on equal footing.”

Cynthia DeFranco, a student who went to Kellenberg Memorial High School, a Catholic school with a strict uniform policy, agrees with Connell.

“I felt as if I was more respected by the teachers when I wore my school uniform. I also felt the need to look polished because as a student at Kellenberg, I had requirements that I pledged to withhold.”