Student Voice and Social Justice at NEMS
Friday, September 14, 2018 12:00 AM

Northeast Middle School Logo

In an effort to build a sense of community here at Northeast Middle School, we are working to be intentional in the ways in which we include student voice into our daily practices. We want our students to be prepared for the many opportunities that will come their way as they develop a global perspective and mindset, while continuing to grow as learners and problem solvers.

One of the issues that is relevant to our students is dress code. We are hoping to help students develop a sense of professionalism as 21st Century learners and prepare them for becoming the owners, executives and managers for the future workforce. Because of this, we feel that it is imperative that we begin to examine what professional appearance should look like with our students and families here at NEMS.

Our desire is to create an ongoing dialogue with our students and families to promote a social justice voice in our young people that helps our students understand that their thoughts and opinions matter. And what better way to give our students voice than by listing a policy that I, as the school leader, personally feel strongly about as it relates to professional attire and “showing up in excellence”?

I come from the “old school” tradition where we didn’t wear hats indoors, we dressed up to go downtown and we ironed every piece of clothing that we had before we went outside because first impressions and the perceptions of others meant everything.

That being said, I struggle with students wearing do-rags and shower bonnets on their heads during school and have asked students to remove them when coming to school. I also struggle with wearing pajamas and house slippers too. I want students to feel comfortable in their learning environments but I believe that clothing should be professional and respectable. I am not pushing uniforms but I am stressing school appropriate clothing.

I also feel that the do-rags and bonnets can be classified as cultural bias on my part because I rarely see any other nationality other than African-American students wearing these items, yet I believe that many African-American families will agree with me in their thinking as well, but I want to put the challenge out there.

Students, I am asking for your opinions in writing, but I want you to talk to your parents about it as well. This is how you use your voice and open means of communication that I long for you to practice. I want to hear your opinions on if I am outdated in my thinking and your rebuttals. I want you to know that anything that I impose on you I also practice myself. I truly believe that students behave differently based upon how they are dressed and I challenge your thinking around this topic.

I welcome your views in writing and will reward students who take the time to write me a letter explaining your views so that we can have a discussion with one another. All papers are due Friday, September 28th in your advisory classes. I look forward to your thoughts and may change my position given your arguments.

This will be the first of my monthly social justice assignments for students and hope that they build interest and a willingness to participate.

Vernon Rowe |
Northeast Middle School | Minneapolis Public Schools