Winnipeg’s largest day school adopts uniforms

WINNIPEG — Blue cardigans, long sleeve pullovers, vests, ladies tartan kilts, and dress pants are some of the new items that students at the Gray Academy of Jewish Education have been wearing since the school instituted uniforms at the start of this year.

One size fits all. Gray Academy students now wear uniforms to school.
[Rhonda Spivak photo]

“The impetus for moving to school uniforms was the idea that uniforms level the playing field financially between the haves and the have nots,” said head of school Rory Paul.

Because of the uniforms, children will not compete with each other through what they wear, Paul said, adding that the uniforms create “school pride and a sense of belonging.”

“We have a culturally varied student body. We have children who immigrated to the city from Argentina, and we have many children whose families are Russian Israelis, as well as children that were born here. Uniforms help integrate children and create a common community.”

Faith Kaplan, a member of the school’s board who led the drive to bring in uniforms, said the board felt that they would “set a tone which would enhance the learning atmosphere appropriate for a Jewish school and strengthen school identity.”

Paul said the school board made a decision to put the words “Gray Academy” on the uniforms rather than “Gray Academy of Jewish Education” because the board had “a mild concern” that the “children might suffer repercussions” if they went out into the general community wearing clothes that indicated they’re Jewish.

“Because the uniforms are likely to be worn when the children are in the regular community, we didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that we were specifically a Jewish school,” he added.

He also said that the school, which has a reputation for excellence, has become well known in the city as “Gray Academy.”

Yechescal Greenfield, a parent at the school, praised the change.

“I like uniforms because it saves the hassle of my kids deciding what they have to wear every morning, and there are a number of different uniform pieces so children can have some individuality.”

Kaplan said that the feedback she has received on the uniforms has been “consistently positive.”

She added: “The overall consensus is that our students look more professional, and part of a school unit. Students and staff seem to be pleased with the positive reaction from the community. Parents of new students have commented on reduced stress from their children as the fashion playing field has been levelled.”

Paul said one teacher remarked that “he has noticed that there is less horseplay in the halls among Grade 7 and 8 boys now that they are wearing uniforms,” and he added that “parents have told me that they think the uniforms make the children behave more respectfully.”

The decision to implement uniforms took two years to make.

A committee of board members and parents, led by Kaplan, held focus groups with high school students and parents.

“The committee also did research by contacting other Jewish day schools and independent schools in Canada and the United States to see what their experience was in regard to uniforms,” Paul said.

“The committee went to schools that were brand new and using uniforms and other established schools, like ourselves, who brought in uniforms. The issue was thoroughly researched.”

The board decided that for this year, Grade 12 students wouldn’t be required to wear the uniforms, since their parents would have to buy uniforms but they would only get one year’s use out of them.

“But as it turns out, most Grade 12 students, especially the girls, have purchased pieces of the uniforms, because they want to wear them,” Paul said.

According to Paul, staff at the school had a meeting and decided to wear “more professional clothes than have been worn in previous years. Now you won’t see staff wearing jeans unless it is a special day where casual clothes can be worn.”

There has been some criticism of the new uniforms.

One individual who did not want to give his name, commented: “If the school moved to uniforms so as to prevent some children from wearing what would be considered inappropriate clothing, then I agree with it. But if they did this so that they could be like other private schools in the city… then I’m not pleased about it.”

A former student at the school, who also did not want to give her name, said, “You can still differentiate the wealthier kids from the less wealthy, because there are a variety of items that can be purchased, and the wealthier kids purchase all of the items whereas the less wealthy can’t afford to do so.”