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Nixing name brands for better grades

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyPrincipal Robert Cuevas shows some of the catalogues he has been looking through to find possible school uniforms for Berry Creek Middle School students.
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EDWARDS ” In the hormone-driven minds of adolescent middle schoolers, wearing a North Face jacket is really cool.

Wearing a cheap knock off from Wal-Mart, or ol’ “Wally World” as the kids say, makes you a poser. A fake. A wannabe.

Such distinctions are known to start fights, or at least a pattern of teasing and torment. Turns out, being cool is a world filled with bullies and name calling.

Robert Cuevas, principal at Berry Creek Middle School, sees students every day struggling with the distractions of name-brand coolness and sloppiness, all for the sake of fitting in. He believes school uniforms can help put an end to the war between cool and not, between poor and rich, and even help between Hispanics and whites.

Students at Berry Creek can expect to be wearing polo shirts and kakis as soon as this fall.

Also, in a school where at least 65 percent of the kids struggle with speaking English, Cuevas believes uniforms can help with more than safety and behavior” he believes it can help close the achievement gap.

There are a couple tricks to sagging your pants.

First, you have walk with your legs spread apart, as if on a horse. Your oversized jeans can’t fall all the way down. And when a teacher tells you to pull them up, go ahead and pull them up. You can just drop them again when you’re in the next hallway.

Cuevas keeps a few pairs of suspenders in his office, for the main offenders, but teachers are tired of dealing with it. It’s something he notices in his Hispanic students, and they do it to fit in, because they saw someone else doing it.

While there aren’t real “gangs” at the school, many of the kids group themselves by color, some kids wearing blue, some kids wearing red, again, just to fit in.

Students are known to wake up at 5 a.m. to get ready for school, often trying on a couple different outfits to find the right one. Kids who can’t afford hip clothes are often taunted or end up in fights, which doesn’t help when they’re also dealing with acne, changing voices and growth spurts.

This is where uniforms become a safety issue, a way of making kids feel more comfortable at school, said Mike Gass, director of secondary education.

Many of the students at Berry Creek are learning English and struggle in class, which makes any distractions stand out.

Taking away the distraction of name-brand clothing will no doubt improve performance and help close the achievement gap between English-speaking students and non-English-speaking students, Cuevas said.

“Taking out those variables of how they’re dressed adds to a more academic environment,” Cuevas said.

Because of its proximity to low-cost housing and trailer homes, Berry Creek has a high number of students who recently moved here from Mexico.

Many of those students are actually used to wearing school uniforms in Mexico, where school days were a lot more structured and strict. Kids come here not used to the extra freedom.

Teachers also notice a rift between the more affluent Hispanic kids who have lived here a while and kids who recently moved here, ones who haven’t saved up a lot of money yet, Cuevas said.

That’s where he sees a lot of that teasing when it comes to name brand clothing.

“Some kids, if they receive a gift from Wal-Mart, they’ll say, ‘No, I’m not going to wear that,'” Cuevas said. “The concentration and focus on academics starts to be lost.”

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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