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Uniforms will dress up Niagara Street School

A year ago, there wasn't one Niagara County public school that required pupils to wear uniforms.

That tradition belonged exclusively to parochial schools.

No more.

Come September, most of the 600 children attending the newly built Niagara Street Elementary School will be sporting blue or gold polo shirts.

Pupils get to choose the color of the polo shirts, which will bear the logo of a tiger, encircled by the school's name and sitting atop the motto, "Building Dreams, Minds & Futures."

The pupils, from prekindergarten through the sixth grade, will wear blue slacks or jeans as part of the uniform.

Niagara Street Elementary becomes the third city school to don uniforms.

The parents and staff at Henry J. Kalfas Magnet School got the ball rolling last September. For the first time in city school history, children wore uniforms to a public school -- blue polo shirts bearing the logo of a baby wolverine and either blue or khaki pants and skirts for girls.

Also, the new Niagara Charter School on Lockport Road in Wheatfield became the first public school in the area to have uniforms when it opened last year. Pupils wear gray polo shirts with a logo depicting two wavy blue and purple lines signifying the Niagara River.

Don J. King, vice president of the Niagara Falls School Board, supports the uniform, or, as he calls it, "dress standard."

King said he's now encouraging LaSalle and Gaskill preparatory schools to join the uniformed ranks in 2008-09.

Gaskill Principal Joseph Colburn and LaSalle Principal Richard Carella said the "Quality Council" at both schools will consider the idea over the next year.

"I think it's a trend around the country that's been driven by things like peer problems, economics and self-esteem," King said. "Students feel good about themselves and focus on doing better work in school."

With a dress standard, schoolchildren are less concerned about sartorial peer pressure and being teased about what they wear, he said. Moreover, parents don't have the pressure of spending a lot of money on back-to-school clothes when they can't afford it.

"I'm glad they're doing it at Niagara Street, and I hope they'll have it in the prep schools next year," King said. "I hope it will progress to Niagara Falls High School in the future, because it will help our kids get used to looking good and caring about how they look. That will help prepare them for the world after school. I also think this is an awareness that translates into behavior and learning."

Niagara Street Assistant Principal Gerald M. Orfano said the school decided to go ahead with uniforms after a survey of parents found 84 percent of them wanted uniforms.

"It's been successful [at the other schools]," Orfano said. "The children and parents over there are happy. So we felt we should try it."

Michael Fey, another Niagara Street School parent, said, "The uniform tells them they belong to a school and they aren't in competition with other students because of what they wear so they can keep their minds on their work and not get distracted by other things."
Paulette Brown, a Niagara Street School parent leader, said, "We liked the idea. We figured we'd have no problems with students picking on each other about what they wear. I feel it's more professional and makes it more conducive for students to do their school work."

Then there's the cost factor. "It's better than shopping for school outfits, which will cost you over $200," Brown added. "Uniforms are less expensive."

Niagara Street School Principal Paulette Mombert-Pierce said the polo shirts cost $10 each and can be ordered at the temporary school location at St. Joseph's School on Tronolone Place.

The new school will be completed Aug. 1, Orfano said, but parents should register their children by the end of this month to ensure their kids get the uniforms on time, along with the other materials they'll need when school opens Sept. 6.

The pupils are all for the uniforms.

"I like the uniforms because it's better that all the kids will be wearing the same things instead of having some kids who can't dress as good as other kids," said Bianca Brown, 11, who will enter fifth grade.

"I like the tiger [logo]," said Christopher M. Fey, 6, a new first-grader.

Kalfas Principal Diane Coty said the move to uniforms in her school was very successful from the perspective of students, parents and teachers.

"Students generally say they feel like they are part of a team," she said. "We wanted their focus to be on learning, to cut down on some of the peer pressure kids usually have to deal with and increase the feeling of community. From the feedback I get from the parents and students, I think we've achieved that."

Parents have definitely found uniforms to be less expensive, Coty added. "I was in a grocery store one day when a woman came up to me, threw her arms around me and said, 'Thank you. I can't tell you how much money you've saved me.' "

Coty said even parents who were not supportive in the beginning of the school year warmed up to the uniforms after the first week of class.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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