Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Long Beach Unified School District Uniform Initiative: A Prevention-Intervention Strategy for Urban Schools

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Long Beach Unified School District Uniform Initiative: A Prevention-Intervention Strategy for Urban Schools

Article excerpt

One school-based solution to providing a more healthy and equitable learning environment for children is discussed here. This article describes the first, most extensive mandatory school uniform policy in place in the United States-that of the Long Beach (California) Unified School District. The relative ease of assimilation of this policy and its compelling crime and absentee reduction outcomes to date are discussed. Several theoretical perspectives regarding the contributions of dress to the developing self-esteem in school-age children are also presented.

The ability of public schools to maintain an atmosphere of safety for academic achievement and social competence has been increasingly encroached upon by several contemporary social and commercial phenomena. Schools have become sites of violence and dysfunction even as more and more children depend on them as pivotal resources in fostering healthy and productive development. For many children, the school setting can determine children's success or downward spiral into failure in surrounding social systems. According to Garbarino, Dubrow, Kostemy, and Pardo (1992), "Not only are schools one of the most continuous institutions in children's lives, but, after the family, schools represent the most important developmental unit in modern social systems" (p. 121). We expect that our schools will not only address academic and intellectual growth, but will also be available to contribute to the child's sense of psychological comfort and trust (Comer, 1980; Gibbs & Huang, 1998). Yet, our schools reflect many of the social problems extant in the surrounding community and are hard-pressed to provide refuge for many children. Gang influence has pervaded many of our cities and schools, as has vandalism and other expressions of rage against our schools. Several accounts in the popular press have reported the horrific actions of students who have been bullied into unthinkable acts against classmates and staff. Whether it be a local occurrence or far across our country, we are all casualties of these events as we watch a generation of children living in fear in what was once considered an island of predictability-the school setting.

Society is dependent upon our schools to "transfer" to new generations our social expectations, our hopes, beliefs, and values (Feldman, 2000, p. 318). But we must ask ourselves what bodies of values and beliefs many schools are sponsoring when children are confronted by violence in the school setting. And what of the role of media and commercial exploitation which offers many ideals, but few opportunities? The bombarding of our children by influence peddling in the form of dress, food, and other products from corporations and industries, detract from the optimal functioning of schools in their academic mission and may play a role in providing social obstacles for poor or minority children (Goldstein & Conoley, 1997). Daily exhibitions of commercialism and conspicuous consumption by some students can mean that the building of a positive sense of self in childhood can rest on the ability to wear the latest clothing label.

This article describes a school-based program that seeks to provide a safer and more stable environment and climate for one group of children in California public schools. The evolution of the program and challenges to mandatory dress requirements are offered. A survey of child developmental tasks that may be influenced by appearance is also provided.


Theoretical Perspectives

The developmental needs of school-age children have been cited in decades of literature in areas of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth typified by increasing social interaction (Berger & Federico, 1985; Erikson, 1959; Gibbs & Huang, 1998). The person-in-environment perspective espoused by Erikson (1968) requires that we consider opportunities lost when schools do not offer safe settings for socialization and for learning skills that will allow the individual to participate in greater societal systems. …

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