|First Day of Uniforms at Pottstown a Success - Mercury 8-26-08|
POTTSTOWN — After years of discussion and months of working over the details, the Pottstown School District's experiment with student uniforms garnered an eye-popping 93 percent participation rate Monday on the first day of school.
"We were very happy with the rate of participation in our school uniform program on day one," said John Armato, the district's director of community relations.
He said out of more than 2,200 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade, only 157 students did not comply.
"And obviously, some of those were youngsters whose families were attempting to meet the standard within the means they had available," he said.
"It was a good positive start," Armato said.
"I think people look much nicer in them instead of just their regular clothes," said Nathan Camacho, 9, a fourth-grader at Rupert Elementary School where only nine students came to school on the first day without a uniform. Nate chose a light blue shirt and tan pants for hist first day.
He said, "it's nice with the uniforms because then you don't have the kids with their pants falling down."
Sixth-grader Marlee DeBlase said she wasn't too keen on the idea of uniforms when it was first raised by her teacher at Lincoln Elementary.
"I was shocked in fourth grade when my teacher said we would have to wear them," Marlee said.
But as she made her way to Pottstown Middle School for the first time Monday, Marlee said she found "it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."
"I got used to the idea," she said adding, when asked how she liked the clothes, "actually, I like them. I think they're really cute."
The policy has not yet been applied to high school students, but will be next school year. School officials said the high participation today will hopefully foreshadow success in the high school.
"I think this will make implementing the policy at the high school easier," said school board member Amy Bathurst-Francis, who, along with fellow board member Edwin Edwards, championed the effort.
"We'll have to wait and see, but we expect only the best, perhaps even better from our high schoolers," she said. "Maybe we'll get 100 percent" participation next year with the high school.
Armato said as pleased as school officials were at the high rate of buy-in by families, he said the district still has work to do to raise it even higher.
"We need to avoid confusing people who want to participate and the onus is on us to articulate this in a clearer fashion so that we nurture and encourage participation," said Armato.
Participation in a voluntary uniform program instituted last year was significantly lower; however, a survey in March of school parents to which 26 percent of households responded found nearly 70 percent of those responding favored requiring uniforms in school.
"I knew from the survey that a majority of families wanted it, but I really didn't know what to expect," Bathurst-Francis said. "I didn't guess it would be that big, particularly with some of the controversy."
Although the survey indicated a majority of support, most parents who have addressed the board directly have been opposed to the policy, arguing, among other things, that it is costing them money. More recently, callers to The Mercury's "Sound Off" column have been suggesting that parents send their children to school without uniforms.
The policy is essentially a guideline for what clothing would be allowed — primarily blue and white, the school colors — and leaving the enforcement of the policy largely up to the building principals.
"I think it's going to be positive outcome in the long run," Bathurst-Francis said