- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

Four high schools in Prince George’s County have reported improved honor rolls, student behavior and attendance since instituting school uniform policies in August.

The four schools — Charles Herbert Flowers, Suitland, Northwestern, and Forrestville Military Academy — joined more than 100 elementary and middle schools in the county that already had uniform policies in place.

Although the high school principals hesitate to draw a direct correlation between academic improvement and the switch to uniforms, they say the uniforms have had positive effects.

“The uniforms do away with fashion stereotypes and create an even playing field for students to concentrate on academics,” said Suitland Principal Mark Fossett.

Excluding Forrestville — which requires students to wear cadet uniforms — the outfits and styles are mostly the same for each school.

Students generally can choose among polo, oxford or turtleneck shirts, and either khakis or dark slacks. Some schools require the shirts to be the school colors, and shoes or boots usually must be a solid color. Three complete sets of uniforms cost about $100, depending upon the vendor.

Helena Nobles-Jones, the principal at Flowers, has been a proponent of uniforms since the early 1990s after witnessing positive results at previous jobs in D.C. and Baltimore schools. She said it is merely a matter of time before all county high schools make the conversion.

“It’s had such a positive and productive impact, and it’s been rewarding not just to me, but the students, parents and faculty as well,” Mrs. Nobles-Jones said.

Northwestern student John Adjei said the uniforms have reduced the levels of teasing and gang activity at his school.

“It used to be gangs that wore all black around the school,” said the 15-year-old sophomore, dressed in a school-approved light blue shirt, tan pants and brown shoes. “The uniforms helped stop that.”

Honor roll membership has blossomed at the schools.

At Suitland High School, 525 students made the honor roll in the most recent quarter of this year, when the school switched to uniforms, compared with 364 students in last quarter of last year.

Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale reported a similar jump: 872 students made the honor roll in the most recent grading period, up from 690 at end of the 2004-05 school year.

Forrestville Military Academy recorded 212 students on the honor roll, nearly doubling the total of 120 at the end of last year. At Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, 483 students made the honor roll this past quarter. The school did not provide honor roll numbers for the spring quarter of last year.

Many of the county’s other 26 high schools are expected to adopt uniforms, school officials say.

Of the county’s 135 elementary schools, 85 have a mandatory uniform dress code, while eight have a voluntary policy. Fourteen of 33 middle schools in the county require uniforms.

Each school needs approval from 75 percent of parents and guardians to implement a mandatory uniform policy.

The improvements in academic performances and student behavior are intertwined, Mrs. Nobles-Jones said.

“We have such a socioeconomic diversity at Flowers: There are students that live in million-dollar houses, and there are students that are homeless,” she said. “And you can tell by their clothing. We don’t need things to separate us; we need things that will unite us.”

Students at Flowers were ambivalent about the uniforms’ usefulness, but disagreed that the policy curtailed conflicts at the school.

“The fights have actually increased this year,” said Samuel Sesay. “Clothes don’t really change people, and fights don’t start because of clothes.”

But the 18-year-old senior welcomes the uniforms.

“When I was in middle school, one of the things I feared was being an outcast. But since everyone has the exact same thing on … you just fade in, and that’s one of the things that’s sort of comfortable about it,” he said.

Fellow senior Jonell Henderson — decked out in the requisite green vest, a white short-sleeve polo shirt and gray slacks — concurred but questioned the uniforms’ worth outside of their aesthetic value.

“If you’re prepared for the work force, you’re going to be prepared for it,” said Jonell, 18. “It’s not going to [matter] whether you wore a uniform in high school or not.”

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