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School uniforms get mixed reviews in Cornelius

Kids at Echo Shaw more likely to choose their own clothes this year

NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Michelle Ortiz, Roxanna Sayago, Sahari Bazon and Briza Villanueva dont wear the uniforms much because they like to pick out their own outfits.Children made their way to Cornelius Elementary School a few weeks ago for their first day of school — and most of them were all wearing the same thing: white or navy polo shirts and tan or navy pants or skirts.

Cornelius Elementary first gave its students the option of wearing uniforms eight years ago. Echo Shaw — also in Cornelius — followed suit in the 2013-14 school year and was joined by Fern Hill Elementary.

Echo Shaw Principal Perla Rodriguez, who was an administrator at Cornelius Elementary when the dress-code topic came up, said parents requested the uniforms. After a parent poll revealed 80 percent of families would like to have uniforms, Rodriguez received approval from the school board to move forward.

Many parents wanted their children to wear uniforms because they thought it would help them take their schooling seriously, Rodriguez said: “It’s like getting dressed for work in the morning.”

"It gets me in the mood for school," said Echo Shaw third grader Amare Walker, who wore her uniform one day last week.

There was also a concern that children from lower-income families might be looked down on or treated differently because they couldn't afford nice, stylish clothes. While kids can still pick up on socioeconomic cues such as shoes and accessories, the uniforms do have an equalizing effect, Rodriguez said.

Uniforms are not required. Parents can sign an opt-out form. But most children have been wearing them in the last few years — especially the younger students.

Uniforms can create "a sense of belonging for everyone in our school community,” Rodriguez said.

This year has been an exception at Echo Shaw, however, where most students have stopped wearing their uniforms.

Echo Shaw fourth grader Celene Alvarez wore a uniform in second grade but her mom told she didn't have to anymore if she didn't want to.

Fourth grader Jennifer Guzman wore her uniform at the beginning of this school year but stopped because she was forgetting to wash it every day.

Alex Leal wore one in second grade, but now in fourth grade, he says it's too tight on him and he never got another one.

"I want to wear my own clothes," said fourth grader Michelle Ortiz. "The uniforms aren't really my style."Most students walking to Cornelius Elementary School for the first day of school last month donned their uniforms.

Third grader J-Lynn Jones said she wore the uniform a few times last year so she wouldn't have to pick out an outfit in the morning and she could sleep a few extra minutes.

Roxanna Sayago, fourth grader, said "people make fun of you" for wearing the uniforms.

Rodriguez explained to parents at Cornelius and Echo Shaw that there isn’t a lot of research on how uniforms affect a school environment, such as whether they decrease bullying. But the uniform option will remain as long as the majority of parents want them. “We have a good relationship between the school and parents and it’s important to honor their ideas.”

Most parents are happy with the uniforms because it usually requires parents to buy less clothing and curbs distractions, Rodriguez said.

Several Echo Shaw students said they couldn't afford the uniforms.

Those struggling to pay for the uniforms can visit Cornelius Elementary School, where Principal Angella Graves started a clothing closet with a $500 grant from the Forest Grove Education Foundation and donations from staff, local families and Emmaus Christian School, which donated boxes of uniforms when it closed its doors this year.

“When students are dressed alike, they’re all on one team,” Graves said. “It doesn’t matter how much your family makes.”