`OUR schools are beginning to be a fashion place instead of a learning place,'' says Victoria Escobar, leader of the crusade for school uniforms in Prince George's County, Md. Last year Ms. Escobar, then Parent-Teacher Association president, convinced parents of students attending John Bayne Elementary school that uniforms would improve students' attitudes, focus their attention on schoolwork, give them equal standing, and save on clothing bills. Says Escobar, ``Going to school every day wearing $100 tennis shoes does not mean getting a good education and being on top of it.''
But, she adds, ``We can't blame the schools anymore. We need to make the students take responsiblilty.''
The uniforms, which cost $120, consist of: three jumpers or pairs of pants; three shirts or blouses; a necktie; a belt; five pairs of socks. Parents wrote the footwear code: no high-top sneakers.
When the program started last year, only 60 percent of the students wore uniforms; by the end of the year that increased to 90 percent.
``The kids came in with a sense of pride ... heads up, nobody's head down,'' recalls principal Joanne Benson. ``The focus was taken off materialistic things, and kids became a little more serious about school.'' The number of students on the honor roll more than doubled.
Things improved at home as well. ``The parents were elated with the results,'' Ms. Benson says. ``The kids came to school in the mornings with a better attitude. A lot of times parents said they had to argue with the kids about what they should be wearing to school, and the kids came to school keyed up; parents went to work keyed up.''
And discipline problems, especially student fights, were drastically reduced. ``When kids look alike,'' observes Benson, ``there seems to be a closer bond....''
Fourth-grader Emanuel Escobar likes wearing his uniform. ``It makes me feel like a man,'' he says, compared with street clothes that make him feel ``like a kid.''
Uniforms are appealing even for parents who don't have to save money. The Kinkaid School in Houston, where annual tuition exceeds $5,000, requires uniforms, but only through junior high.
Vicki Woodson, mother of two who attend the school, wishes that would change. ``Most of the girls in Kirby's [11th-grade] class would prefer uniforms.... It would be a lot less expensive.'' She says it's not as important for the boys, who tend to wear the same pants and shirt.
Says 16-year-old Kirby, ``I think I'd like to [wear uniforms] just because then you don't have to worry about waking up and finding something to wear....''
On the other hand, she says, having to dress every morning is ``good because we can learn how to put things together.'' Her ideal solution: ``One day a week to wear what we want.''