My two sons go to public schools; one is in 8th grade, the other is a senior in high school. They don’t wear school uniforms and I have been curious about what life would be like for them if they did. Especially for my younger son who is in his early teens and at an impressionable and vulnerable age. I spoke with Dr. Karen Rezach, Director of the Middle School and The Ethics Institute at Kent Place School, an all-girls school from Kindergarten through the 12th Grade. We talked about the role of uniforms and why they are so important for the self-image of the students of Kent Place School. Dr. Rezach also helped me to see why this is not just about clothing and the choices our children make. It goes much deeper. She is a formidable woman and I must confess that I was a bit nervous before our conversation but the minute we started talking, I knew that I had come to the right person.
Here is my conversation with Dr. Rezach:
MKG: Kent Place School has adopted a “uniforms with choice,” platform from Kindergarten through the 8th grade. How does that differ from a basic uniform?
Dr. Rezach: It’s a question of Kent Place School’s mission. Traditional uniforms were not in line with the mission of Kent Place to develop independent leaders. We chose to offer choice for our students; in the color of the tops and in the different styles of skirts and pants – offering the students a degree of self-expression as well as maintaining a sensitivity to all body types.
MKG: Why do you think wearing uniforms is so important, especially for girls and younger teens?
Dr. Rezach: There is so much pressure on young people today, everything is “Like me” on Facebook. What kids are wearing becomes a big issue; they are often judged and made fun of. In addition, there is a broad-range of economic backgrounds among our student community which may affect clothing choices. And wearing uniforms creates a mindset for students and a seriousness of purpose to their academic study: They know they are in school and they are here to learn. For all of these reasons, wearing uniforms is a valuable aspect to their life at school.
MKG: You mention that it is a ‘mindset.‘ What do you mean?
Dr. Rezach: What you wear influences how you feel about yourself. Wearing a uniform gives you a sense of community and taking away the pressure of having to choose what to wear allows you more of a sense of pride and confidence.
MKG: I think wearing a uniform must take the pressure off teens, who already feel so uncertain and insecure. Do you agree?
Dr. Rezach: We take all that pressure off so that the students can focus on learning. Many of the girls have commented that they love the uniforms; it takes them five minutes to get dressed in the morning and it’s much easier for them. In middle school they all want to look the same way anyway. Hopefully having the uniform will help them to see school a certain way and that will carry them forward.
MKG: I notice that the high school doesn’t have a uniform requirement? Why is that?
Dr. Rezach: High school is a time to transition from middle school to college. It is a time to create independence, self-expression, and a sense of individuality and identity. I love seeing students I knew from middle school express their personal style in high school. At the high school level at Kent Place School there is no longer a uniform requirement but the students do have a dress code and must always dress appropriately.
My time with Dr. Rezach was informative. I thank her for her wisdom and generosity. If we are to gain understanding about the emotional lives of our children and put ourselves in their shoes, then conversations like these are essential.