Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Braden River Middle searches for unity in uniforms

The Bradenton school switches for the first time to a uniform policy, with general approval from parents.

  • East County
  • Schools
  • Share

East County’s Ricky Jessop no longer has to argue with his daughter, Polly, about what she is wearing to school. 

A year ago, the Jessops went back-to-school shopping before the start of the new school year at Braden River Middle. However, Ricky Jessop said it only took months before Polly, who was in sixth grade, no longer wanted to wear the clothes they had purchased.

Then they began having a regular discussion about what was appropriate to wear to school.

Now as a seventh grader, Polly Jessop’s school clothing options have been limited to a red, gray or black uniform. With a new policy, Braden River Middle is requiring students to wear its school colors in uniforms. 

“This year she doesn’t have a choice,” Ricky Jessop said. “I was thankful for it. I welcome it.

"It’s a great leveler for the kids. There’s less chance they will be singled out for not having the latest new trends.”

The decision to change to uniforms came after the School Advisory Council approached Principal Kimberlain Zenon-Richardson on the topic last school year. The school sent out a survey to parents, and Zenon-Richardson said a majority of parents voted in favor of uniforms. 

This isn’t the first time the School Advisory Council has discussed a switch to uniforms. 

Zenon-Richardson said when she became principal of Braden River Middle in 2019, the School Advisory Council brought up the idea of switching to uniforms. After trying to get a vote from all families at the school, Zenon-Richardson said only about 400 of the about 900 families at the school responded. Without a majority, Zenon-Richardson didn’t want to approve the change to uniforms. 

Last school year, after using various forms of communication to ensure parents could have their say, Zenon-Richardson said a majority of parents approved the change. 

Braden River Middle is the only school in East County to require students to wear uniforms.

Although the uniform shirts are required, students can continue to wear whatever bottoms they wish as long as they abide by the school’s dress code. 

Eighth graders Camryn Kolbe and Esmeralda Pena say having uniforms makes it easier to pick an outfit for school every morning. (Photo by Liz Ramos)
Eighth graders Camryn Kolbe and Esmeralda Pena say having uniforms makes it easier to pick an outfit for school every morning. (Photo by Liz Ramos)

On Fridays, students can wear the approved school shirts associated with the clubs or activities they’re involved in, such as Technology Student Association, physical education, fine arts programs and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

Zenon-Richardson said uniforms will help emphasize a positive school culture.

“It’s going to build a great culture here,” she said. “All students should feel like they belong, they are a part of our family and that we are all Panthers. We all believe and we all achieve. Having that culture of success and culture of excellence will be brought out even more with everyone being in their uniform.”

Zenon-Richardson tries to wear a shirt with the school logo on it every day as well to show her students they are in it together. 

Some families had trouble getting their tops shipped to their homes in time for the first day of school Aug. 10. Until students receive them, the school has asked students to wear solid red, black or gray shirts to match the school’s colors. 

Ricky Jessop said his daughter has heard some students want to just wear the school colors rather than have a shirt with the logo. He said Zenon-Richardson believes uniforms will help to unite the school community.

“She’s all about Panther Pride, so I think that’s why she’s stuck with making the uniforms have emblems,” Ricky Jessop said. “You want her to be engaged and proud of her school and her kids.”

Zenon-Richardson said uniforms also can be an added safety measure for students. 

“Our campus is pretty secure, but if anyone got on our campus, we would easily be able to identify them because they would not have on a shirt with our logo,” she said. 

Ricky Jessop and Nicole Mitchell, a parent of a sixth grader at the school, said the uniforms could help stop bullying because students don’t have to worry about whether they can afford to keep up with the latest trends. 

Mitchell voted in favor of the uniform because she could save money. Her daughter opted to get a T-shirt rather than the polo because it would be less formal. 

“She was upset we had to do uniforms, but happy it was a T-shirt,” Mitchell said. “She was glad they didn’t go full uniform because they can express themselves in other ways with shoes and accessories.”

Not all parents nor students were in favor of the change to uniforms. 

Kelly Lassiter, who has an eighth grader at the school, didn’t want uniforms because she didn’t like the idea of families having to make mandatory purchases for branded gear. 

“We are already faced with the hardship of these long supply lists, there’s additional transportation costs because there’s so many bus issues this year, and lunches are no longer free,” Lassiter said. “I would have preferred Braden River allow us to purchase plain school color shirts to supplement the required logo attire versus forcing us to purchase shirts with the actual logo.”

Lassiter also didn’t like that there were limited uniform options. She said her son wore a hoodie to school every day last year but now she has to either send him to school with a zip-up jacket or nothing at all because the uniform cannot be covered. 

Although Lassiter didn’t vote in favor of the uniform policy, she said she supports the school’s decision “to increase unity through uniformity.”

Camryn Kolbe, an eighth grader at Braden River Middle School, used to take five to 10 minutes every morning to pick out an outfit for school. Now her choices are limited to a red, gray or black Braden River Middle School uniform T-shirt. 

“It’s definitely a lot easier than having to plan an outfit,” Kolbe said. “You do have to wear the same color more than once a week though.”

Eighth grader Donovan Plakyda does not like the change to uniforms.

“We have our own personalities and stuff, but at the same time, it makes everybody more equal,” he said. 

Kolbe and her friend and fellow eighth grader, Bradyn Bobbitt, have found other ways to express themselves. They focus on their shoes. For example, Bobbitt always wears Vans to school. Kolbe wears bracelets.

Kolbe said she was worried by the switch because she has done research in her classes about clothing being one of the top ways people express themselves.

 “After a few days have gone by, it’s fine," she said. "I didn’t really have a big problem with it because, especially since this (shirt) is black, I can wear any shoes with it.”


Related Articles