Parades & Uniforms

Parades & Uniforms

If you tuned into last Friday’s Halloween Parade on Zoom, you may have been wowed by the engineering skills of Keo’s working candy slot machine, chuckled at Nick’s Zoom screenshot costume, or questioned just how many AA batteries powered the various inflatable costumes. While I did all of that, I also noticed the pace at which students walked in front of the camera. Pretty quickly our youngest students learned the system and had a fun time parading in front of the camera for all to see. First graders paused to wave at the camera. A third-grader did a disco-inspired move. And fifth-graders proudly showed off their costumes. 

Lower School students in the Halloween Parade

The pace rapidly picked up with our sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade students. Rather than be seen, alone, by all, our middle school students did everything they could to hide from the camera. Some grabbed a posse of friends to walk together – quickly met with “keep your distance!” cries from me and other teachers. Others went from one edge of the “on camera” area to the other at a speed Usain Bolt would find impressive. Nearly all avoided eye contact with the camera. 

Halloween Parade

All of this is, of course, developmentally appropriate. As these early adolescents grow into their autonomy, “fitting in” and being with others is of paramount importance. So much of what I saw as I narrated the parade, reminded me of why I so appreciate uniforms for middle school students. The uniform removes the “what should I wear to fit in?” pressure each morning. It also eliminates the clothing tugs and pulls. As I said on our tours, the uniforms help our students look past brand names and see the person. There is still plenty of awkward moments for our middle school students – it comes with the age – there are just fewer such moments with the uniform.

Just a few days before that parade, our seventh-grade students led a protest against the MTS uniform. They were not, though, advocating for the abolishment of the uniform, but rather for “degendering” the uniform. Aware of, and advocating for, greater inclusion of gender identity and diversity, a handful of seventh-grade students have asked that the gendered terms “boys uniform” and “girls uniform” be replaced with the “MTS uniform.” 

While working on a proposal to the MTS faculty and administration, the seventh grade asked to draw attention to the gendered uniform policy by wearing the clothing of the gender with which they do not identify – shorts or pants for girls, and skirts for boys – for a day of protest. After discussions with Nick Wilsey, our Head of Middle School, and consultation with middle school faculty, the seventh-grade students protested for degendering the dress code with nearly every student in the Class of 2022 wearing uniform items they don’t typically wear. 

This student-led initiative to be a more inclusive school speaks to the phenomenal maturity of our middle school students. Rather than rebelling against “the uniform” – a quintessential middle school thing to do – these students advocated for inclusion and equity with nuance and perseverance. Motivated by their protest, a handful of students continue to work through the process of making a permanent change consulting with various constituents and acknowledging the value and tradition of the uniform.

The uniform has always helped our students remain young at heart – avoiding the “in” and “out” of daily clothing choice. Now we are seeing an inspiring way in which the uniform is motivating a mature approach to institutional change and equity work. As both Head of School and father of two Mount Tamalpais School students, I could not be more proud of our school, our uniform, our students, and the inclusive future that they will create.

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