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Students at Bester to wear uniform shirts

August 15, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Bester Elementary School students this school year will become the first in the Washington County Public Schools system to wear uniforms in an effort to narrow the gulf between students from low-income homes and those from more affluent families, school officials said.

As part of that same effort, the school will be designated an academy.

"The logic behind it is having high expectations of everyone," Bester Elementary School Principal Drenna Reineck said.

Parents have the option of sending their children to school dressed in green or white polo shirts embroidered with the words "Bester Academy." The polo shirts come with or without an embroidered bear, which is the Bester mascot, Reineck said.

Other Bester shirts may be worn in place of the new uniform shirt, she said.

The shirts are to be worn with khaki pants, jeans or skirts that are in compliance with Washington County Public Schools' systemwide dress code.

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Students will be expected to wear the designated clothing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, they have the option of wearing other clothes.

As of now, no disciplinary action has been set for students who don't wear the uniforms.

"We're going to try to take it a day at a time," Reineck said.

Shirts will be made available to students who don't have them, she said.

Bill Rheinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said that the state board doesn't have an opinion on uniforms.

He said a few schools in the state, including some in Baltimore City, require students to wear uniforms.

Reineck said the school is not making money on the shirts, which are being sold at about wholesale price.

The shirts cost $10, but for the approximately 73 percent of the school's students who qualify for free and reduced-priced meals, the shirts will cost $5.

She said students who move may sell their shirts back to the school at half-price.

Reineck said the school has set up a system under which parents who volunteer at least 10 hours in their child's classroom may receive a free shirt.

Laundry service will be available to parents. On the days students wear uniforms, parents may wash two loads of clothes at the school, but while they are waiting for their laundry they must volunteer in their child's class. If a parent drops a uniform off to be cleaned on Tuesday, the shirts will be returned to the students on Wednesday, the school's casual day, she said.

Reineck said a survey was sent out last summer seeking parents' opinions on school uniforms.

She said about 70 percent to 75 percent of those who replied to the survey said they favored the idea of school uniforms, but many had questions about what a uniform policy at Bester would entail.

Reineck said 20 percent to 25 percent of the parents who responded said that they opposed uniforms.

"You won't get 100 percent agreement and we weren't looking for 100 percent agreement," she said.

Reineck said about 73 percent of Bester's students qualify for free and reduced-priced meals, a discount that is given to students whose families are low income, have a number of children or a combination of both.

Bester has the second highest poverty level among county schools. Reineck said 50 percent of the students either leave or enter the school over the course of one year.

As an academy, the school will work under an Accelerated Schools Project Reform Model, a research-based education guideline designed to help the school focus on becoming a community.

Parent involvement will be incorporated into the academy. Adult education classes and parenting classes will be offered to parents and welcome breakfasts will be offered to parents new to Bester.

Reineck said the school is adding after-school programs that emphasize reading, technology and math enrichment as well as programs that allow students to focus on their particular interests.

The school will hold weekly schoolwide assemblies to recognize the accomplishments of its students, and children will participate in community outreach activities. Students also will be taught some foreign languages and will have in-depth learning experiences in art, music, technology, literature and physical fitness.

Teachers will be encouraged to use the same teaching strategies used for gifted and talented students, such as taking them on more field trips, Reineck said.

She said uniforms are an attempt to equalize the student body, but said uniforms alone may not keep children from teasing one another.

Students still tease each other despite their economic backgrounds or those of the children they tease, she said.

"We start judging when we're young," she said.

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