The program, offered by Shamokin Middle School, is just called “The Clothes Closet” and currently offers about 100 articles of free clothing for students to wear in accordance with the dress code policy.
Per the school website, students in grades K-12 cannot wear head-to-toe clothing in one color, baggy pants, Spandex, skirts shorter than the knee, or logos. Instead, collared and turtleneck shirts or cardigans in opaque colors, and items with school logos are encouraged. First-time violators receive a verbal warning and an in-house suspension until a parent can drop off replacement clothing. Students who habitually break the rules can get detention.
In September, principal Chris Venna wanted to offer a proactive approach to the dress code and Tiffani Bogart, a math teacher and adviser to the school’s trivia club, came up with the Clothes Closet, which she helped fund from the proceeds of two multilevel marketing pop-up events and from donations gained in a word-of-mouth campaign.
The closet is located across the hall from Bogart’s classroom. Students whose families can’t afford school-approved clothing, or new students unprepared for the dress code, can pop in the closet, which is stocked with hangers and seasonal clothing, including coats, that’s sorted by size.
“So far, two students have [come forward on their own and] asked for clothing,” Bogart tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “In other cases, we’ve encouraged kids who wear the same pair of pants throughout the week to use the closet. And a student who’s currently homeless will start school in January so I gave her four pairs of pants and six tops from the closet.”
Bogart’s students have also become invested in the project, helping to sort and fold clothes during study hall or even shop for items.
Over the past few years, school dress codes, which are enforced by 58 percent of public schools according to the National Center for Education Statistics, have triggered controversy. Many are called sexist because girls are often body shamed for wearing conservative clothing that can look revealing on different body types. The hashtag #Iammorethanadistraction has gone viral on social media from students frustrated by discriminatory dress codes.
And research hasn’t determined whether dress codes are effective — a 2005 study of six public schools conducted by Youngstown State University in Ohio found that school uniforms contribute to improved behavior, attendance, and graduation rates; however, according to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, dress codes can be racially biased, with nonwhite students punished more severely for dress code violations than white students.
But few schools have enacted such a positive, proactive approach as the Clothes Closet, which Bogart says has reduced dress code violations in only a few short months.
“Recently, a local church received a $1,500 donation, which the pastor spent at Old Navy on clothes for the closet,” says Bogart. “Once they arrive, we’ll be set for the school year.”
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