By Dawn Flesland Guest columnist
The final school in the Diocese of Duluth has started to wear uniforms! Located in International Falls, St. Thomas School students have begun to wear uniforms one day a week for the 2016-17 school year in preparation for full uniform implementation for the 2017-18 school year. The uniforms follow the Diocese of Duluth dress code policy, with red, white or navy shirts, khaki or navy pants and additional plaid options.
St. Thomas School is the last of the 10 schools in the diocese to adopt the policy that began in 2000 with the Diocese of Duluth Area Catholic Schools. Bishop Schwietz, Cynthia Zook along the pastors and principals of the Duluth Area Catholic Schools made that initial bold decision after years of discussion and research. In 2007, the Iron Range schools of Grand Rapids, Virginia and Hibbing began following the uniform policy. A that time, St. Thomas parish and school was still served by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and chose not to adopt uniforms. In 2010, the Diocese of Duluth took over St. Thomas parish and school, and at that time a greater connection with the Diocese of Duluth was begun. This change in leadership laid the groundwork for the future feelings of unity that we feel today.
The decision for St. Thomas School students to start wearing uniforms was an easy one for Father Ben Hadrich. He began his vocation as a priest at St. John’s School in Duluth, where the students had been wearing uniforms for many years. The idea of students wearing uniforms was an issue that he was quick to bring to the Parent Advisory Board discussion table. Parents learned that uniforms are a great policy for schools for many reasons. First, they help us visualize our shared unity of being enrolled in a Catholic school. Second, uniforms show students that school is their “work.” Finally, uniforms make economic sense in that parents need not feel pressured to purchase the latest expensive fad in clothing, which quickly go out of style.
Although Father Hadrich could have made the decision on his own, he felt parent buy-in was important to the process of implementing the uniforms. Parents at St. Thomas School had discussed the option of wearing uniforms off and on for several years, so the topic was not a surprise. Several parent meetings were held, and it was found that parents were mostly in favor of the change. St. Thomas School has a relatively small student population, which is currently stabilizing from years of declining enrollment, and because of this, the group decided that a transition year was in order. This year the 28 children registered in Kindergarten through grade 4 are wearing uniforms on Thursdays, which also happens to be the day St. Thomas School attends Mass.
As we make this change, St. Thomas School has been blessed with clothing donations from other Catholic schools in the Diocese of Duluth in order to start a free “clothing store” for parents. Parents are able to try on sizes and select clothing for their child. We are thankful for the clothing that we can then pass on to families!
With the start of this school year well under way, parents and students are adjusting well and seem pleased with the clothing choices overall. The school’s overall enrollment continued to be stable this year, and we anticipate that it will continue to be stable next school year, as we transition to full uniform implementation.
Dawn Flesland is principal of St. Thomas Aquinas School in International Falls.