Berry Creek Middle School hopes new dress code will improve behavior and performance |

Berry Creek Middle School hopes new dress code will improve behavior and performance

eagle county correspondent

A uniform set at Berry Creek Middle school cost parents between $100 and $140, maybe even less. A set includes four or five pairs of pants, five T-shirts, a dress shirt, two polo shirts and a hooded sweatshirt. Cuevas said he didn’t want parents worrying about doing too much laundry.

The colors are black, purple and white.

Parents were offered different payment options, and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch also qualified for assistance in purchasing uniforms.

In a survey of 75 families at Berry Creek, 72 percent were in favor of the uniforms, 21 percent opposed, and 7 percent were unsure.

Parents who opposed didn’t want their child’s freedom of expression hindered, principal Robert Cuevas said. Legally, Colorado schools are allowed to enforce dress codes of any sort, including ones that require uniforms.

But that hasn’t stopped parents in other schools from being angry, threatening law suits and even pulling students out of a school.

EDWARDS ” Ask students at Berry Creek Middle School what they think about their new uniforms, and you’ll often see a shrug of indifference.

“Not bad.” “Could be worse.” “I don’t know.” It’s hard to find students who praise their new wardrobes, but you don’t find many students who hate them either. For the most part, they’ve accepted matching kakis, T-shirts and polos as a fact of life.

“They’re OK ” some actually have some style,” said seventh grader Brenda Jimenez.

This is the first year for uniforms at Berry Creek, and this new dress code is a response to several problems principal Robert Cuevas noticed with his students.

Sloppiness was rampant. Many girls wore revealing shirts, and many boys wore oversized jeans that fell to the back of their thighs, exposing their underwear for all to see. Now, these gigantic expressions of denim are stowed away in dresser drawers and closets, waiting to be worn on weekends and after school.

Every day, teachers watched students bicker about name brand clothes. Those with nice jackets would make fun of kids wearing older clothing. This often ended with a fight, or at least teasing and torment.

Without clothing as a distraction, Cuevas believes uniforms can help put an end to the war between cool and not, between poor and rich, and get students to take more pride in their appearance.

And at a school where many students are learning English, uniforms could help with more than safety and behavior ” it could help close the achievement gap,

It may not say “Wal-Mart” on the T-shirt in big bold letters, but kids can tell.

“They make fun of you if you wear clothes from Wal-Mart,” said seventh grader Julio Tapia.

Now though, everyone’s on the same playing field and wearing the same things, Cuevas said.

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

Students in Chris Lundholm’s life management skills class said they felt more comfortable now that they didn’t have to worry about that.

Cuevas said some students were 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. Now, that’s not necessary.

“It’s nice that you don’t have to pick out what to wear in the morning,” said eighth grader Montana Nash.

Then you have the sagging jeans, a popular fashion statement among many Hispanic students. P.E. teacher Rich Holdman said that before the uniforms, many students preferred to wear those oversized jeans in gym class instead of changing, which would knock points off their grades. That hasn’t been a problem now that they have gym class uniforms as well.

And with students required to tuck in their shirts, and with parents ordering pants that actually fit correctly, sagging is more difficult to do and easier to notice.

Teachers say they’ve already seen a dramatic change in attitude at the school.

“Kids seem to have a lot more pride, like they’re a part of a team,” said Todd Huck, a science teacher who’s been at Berry Creek since it opened in 1996.

Some students haven’t received their uniforms yet, and Huck said they’re in the office every day asking when they’ll be in, eager to be a part of the school.

“It makes a statement about how you respect yourself and other people,” Lundholm said.

When all the students have their full uniforms, it will be easier to see how well students follow the rules. Cuevas is asking teachers to be diligent in pointing out kids who aren’t in uniform and make it clear that they’ll face consequences for not being in uniform.

In a school where at least 65 percent of the kids struggle with English, Cuevas believes uniforms can help with more than behavior ” he believes it can help them academically.

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 who haven’t saved up a lot of money yet, Cuevas said.

That’s where he saw a lot of that teasing about name brand clothing.

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