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High fashion for school uniforms

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Carol Mendoza, 14, likes Barnum School’s white and navy blue school uniforms well enough.

But could it use a little jazzing up?

“Probably,” the eighth-grader said. “I like to bring my own self to it.”

Enter fashion designer Tracy Reese, the school’s visiting artist. She and teachers at the pre-K-through-eighth grade school have hatched a plan to not only accessorize the look, but help distinguish upperclassmen from the rest of the student body.

Between now and early spring, students will be designing patches, sashes, pins and other splashes of color to help them stand out.

That’s not all. Students have been tasked with designing outfits to fit the profession they someday see themselves in, and are planning to host a fashion show featuring recycled materials such as newsprint and paper bags.

“I want you to have fun with it,” Reese told students on a visit to the school last week. She wore a shiny gold sequined skirt and sweatshirt top, both of which she designed herself, and fuzzy sandals that she called quite comfortable.

Reese is one of four acclaimed artists paired with city schools this year as part of the President’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities signature Turnaround Arts program. While Reese is assigned to Barnum, Hall School has architect Thom Mayne, Jettie S. Tisdale School has baseball-player-turned-musician Bernie Williams and Hallen School has illusionist David Blaine.

The artists will visit their adopted schools three or four times during this academic year to help students and teachers do more to incorporate art into the classroom. The thought is that arts will ultimately help boost academic performance and attendance.

“I want to stimulate their thinking and open their mind to possibilities,” Reese said.

Designer Tracy Reese talks fashion with pre-k student Cassandra Santoyo Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, at Barnum School in Bridgeport, Conn. Reese was viting her adopted Turnaround Arts school to brainstorm with kids on a design project to enhance their school uniform. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Hearst Connecticut Media / Connecticut Post

photo: vintage formal dresses

Tayna Kelley, director of performing and visual arts for the school district, said staff and students came up with the idea to jazz up the school uniforms, now that they have a New York fashion designer at their disposal.

“The idea was how can we make uniforms so students are more apt to wear them,” Kelley said.

Uniforms have been a district policy at the elementary school level since 2009. Barnum Principal Ralph Paladino said he has high participation rate in his school — about 95 percent.

Still, students like sixth-grader Xiarilyz Montanez, 11, say school attire is boring.

The day of Kelley’s visit, Xiarilyz paired her white collared polo shirt with a vest, purse and colorful headband.

Reese, who grew up in Detroit and went to public schools there, said she never wore a uniform to school, but has a niece and nephews who do. She said the idea of giving upperclassmen, particularly eighth-graders, something to help them stand out, was a great one.

Working with art teacher Sarah-Jane Henry, eighth-graders have already come up with ideas for four patches, one of which includes the school mascot — a tiger — and another that looks suspiciously like an emblem one might find at Hogwarts.

Reese said it would be nice if the students could come up with an inspirational word or two to incorporate in the design. She will have her staff work up the finished product into an embroidered patch or iron-on.

As for the younger grades, second-graders in Patricia Miller’s class told Reese they wouldn’t mind something that added glitter, paint or even stickers to their polos and khakis.

In Kathy Meyer’s fifth-grade class, students thought a sash or a belt might be a better way to stand out.

“They say (uniforms) help but it doesn’t, Tabitha Hernandez, 10, whispered. “It makes everyone feel the same.”

Chances are the uniform enhancements won’t be complete until sometime after Reese and her team of five designers are done with Fashion Week in New York during the second week in February.

By then, all students are expected to research and design something they would wear in their future professions.

“I want you to create something that is uniquely yours,” Reese told students. “It is also important that it is comfortable.”

Reese said she wears the clothing she designs to make sure it works, isn’t too tight or itchy.

“And I want people to say, ‘Hey, I like that,’ ” she said.

see more: backless formal dresses

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