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The Great Dress Code Debate

March 23, 2016

No-one likes being told what they can or cannot wear including many of today’s elementary, middle and high school students.

School systems across the nation have adopted dress codes including Middlesex County Public Schools. Supporters of school dress codes argue that strict dress guidelines have a positive impact on students, promote school safety, improve self-esteem and are in the best interests of the student. Even the U.S. Department of Education has weighed in on the topic and acknowledges the benefits of school dress codes. There are even cases where a student has gone as far as to sue the school district over a matter of dress, stating that dress codes are unconstitutional. Clearly, the adoption and administration of school dress policy is a hot topic for families everywhere.

Whether a proponent or an adversary, dress code confusion can pit parent against child in an uncomfortable battle that can set an unpleasant tone for the school day. There is a reason this conversation is so difficult; it involves issues of self image, freedom of expression, and gender politics all wrapped up in an argument at 7:00 in the morning.

The dress code debate is not a new one. Back in the sixties, dress codes choices were sometimes politically motivated such as black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. Such attire was protected under the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. In the early seventies, girls were required to kneel down on the floor to ascertain if their skirts were long enough to touch the ground. As society changed, we developed new norms. Gone are the days when schools forbade girls from wearing pants and required boys to press their trousers. Today, more than half of American schools have some sort of dress code; however, those policies vary drastically between schools, districts, and states. This can be especially confusing for families that change schools. To complicate matters, there is no gold standard for what is acceptable attire in school. For most of today’s students, dress code grievances are probably not politically motivated, but are more certainly driven by their desire for self expression, which is a trickier line to navigate. Some students try to express something with their clothing choices, but it’s not like they are shouting in a language that everyone understands. Boys may choose baggy pants and hoodies because they are comfortable and want to express their fondness of hip hop, but to others those outfits scream ‘thug.’ Girls run into a similar disconnect between what they feel they are portraying with their outfit selection and how their peers and adults perceive them. In an ideal world all people could dress any way they want to, but dressing in a certain way can send out messages that puts students at risk. While a student’s choice of attire should not drive anyone’s actions toward that individual; unfortunately, it does have an impact on the way others perceive them which can lead to undesirable results.

Supporters of a strict dress code argue that without it inappropriate clothing will be worn in school. This can cause unnecessary distraction that is counterproductive to learning. They feel a school is not a club; it’s a place for education. Students should dress appropriately for the opportunity to learn. The same outfit on two different individuals may yield two totally different connotations. A detailed dress code removes the subjectivity of the rule enforcer whether it be a parent, a teacher or a school administrator and makes it easier for him or her to determine what the student is allowed to wear.

But even enforcing a detailed dress code is a sticky situation for adults. For example, the school says that shorts must extend past the tips of the fingertips, but your daughter insists that nobody follows the rules. Families with boys are not necessarily spared these arguments either as many want to wear saggy pants while the school requires that waistlines be hitched firmly above the hips. To their credit, students are not always wrong when they say that others get away with breaking the rules. Many schools employ the fingertip rule for skirts and shorts, and yet they also permit cheerleaders and volleyball players to wear extremely short skirts and shorts to games. This contradiction in rules can raise eyebrows and irritate students and parents.

School dress code policies often fluctuate from year to year as administrators attempt to keep up with ever-changing fashion trends. The popularity of skin-tight leggings, for instance, has prompted some schools to write new rules that spell out whether or not girls will be permitted to wear them as pants or if they need to wear a long shirt, skirt, or shorts over them. That means that an outfit that was permitted last year, may not be acceptable this year. Again, students and parents feel out of the loop as to what is and is not allowed.

Opponents of strict dress codes feel schools ought to consider what issues they are really trying to address and critically examine whether or not policing attire will realistically accomplish those goals. Many schools say that their policies have been constructed to promote respect and minimize disruption in the school environment. Some feel schools should focus more on discussion of respectful actions rather than spending time policing attire. They feel if schools are working to prepare children to become functional members of society, shouldn’t school policies simply mirror the unwritten public dress code. We already have public standards of decency and indecent exposure. Why shouldn’t those same standards apply in the school system?

We must remember that our youth gleans societal messages from many different sources. A survey of acceptable outfits worn around town to the local mall, the gas station, and football games will produce one image of what is acceptable attire versus the constant flood of images of scantily clad pop and movie stars that follow our children everywhere they go and paint a very different picture of the allowed norm. Those messages from pop-culture ring much louder for children than any implied public code. School enforced dress codes can help to alleviate some of the pressures that children feel to dress a certain way and can offer parents some guidelines to fall back upon.

And so the Great Dress Code Debate rages on…

The MCPS dress code can be found on pages 40 and 41 of the MCPS 2015-2016 Family Handbook.

The Modern Student

February 5, 2016

Quite simply, the modern student does it differently.

The world of the modern student is an exciting, fast-paced one filled with state-of-the-art equipment, instant access to information, and a virtual persona created through social media.

Gone are the days of textbooks, overhead projectors and chalk & blackboard lessons in the classroom. We have graduated to handheld devices, Smartboards, on-line classes and electronic textbooks. Students at MCPS are no exception.  In virtually every classroom from pre-school to 12th grade, MCPS students and teachers have a wide variety of cutting-edge equipment and software available to them.  Android devices, iPads, iPad minis, high-speed laptops, touch recognition Smartboards, on-line instruction tools and of course, the all-powerful internet are readily available throughout our school system. Students communicate with teachers using apps on their phones, and parents have immediate access to their children’s grades…sometimes a blessing…sometimes a curse… depending on who you ask. In some instances, even something as “young” as e-mail and texting has gone by the wayside being replaced with the trendier Edmodo and Google Classroom. As our children navigate the waters in this quick-paced, ever-evolving learning environment, some can become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Parents can feel lost and confused and even unsure how to help. Teachers and administrators need to stay on top of their game so they can continue to present core curriculum and effectively use the technological resources available to them. All these players working together are an invaluable component to the success of the modern student.

But unfortunately exposure to innovative technology does have its pitfalls.

The introduction and influence of social media has put increased scrutiny on our school system and our teachers’ and students’ lives. Cyberbullying is a real and dangerous enemy that many of our students face on a daily basis. A reputation which takes years to build can be destroyed in an instant with no justification and with a simple graze of a touch screen. Although there can be a real benefit to a strong virtual presence, we must be always conscious of our social reputation. Using social media to communicate information, promote our accomplishments and accept our criticisms is an important piece of a modern school environment offering a unique opportunity for every student, parent and community member to “weigh-in” on a posting and provide important feedback, necessary assessment, and raise relevant questions. But social media postings are also a possibility for misinformation, conjecture and opinion from both friends and foes.  Both an opportunity and a curse, students, teachers and even school systems must walk a thin line and form a thick skin to be able to withstand such constant scrutiny. Adults must be aware of this environment and help students avoid the pitfalls and benefit from the advantages that social media presents.

Whether the modern student is better or worse off than a traditional student is not even a viable question. To be successful in today’s world, students, teachers and school systems must adapt and evolve as the world around us does. MCPS is constantly striving to offer our students a safe and nurturing learning environment with appropriate use of technology and watchful consideration of our most important asset…our future…our children.


January 22, 2016

No two words in the English Language can elicit more shrieks of joy, sighs of exasperation and questions of ‘What now?’ than the coveted and dreaded SNOW DAY!

For decades…maybe even for centuries…those 7 letters can turn household and school operations into chaos all at 6am in the morning.

The process actually starts days in advance when meteorologists everywhere try to predict the ever-changing, ever-elusive weather forecast.  Winter storm watch, winter storm warning, frozen mix, sleet, snow and the alarming blizzard-like conditions keep everyone on their toes hour after hour.  Grocery stores see an influx of customers with bread, milk and bottled water flying off the shelves faster than you can say ‘Winter Wonderland’.  Everyone talks about it, and everyone tries to figure out exactly what is going to happen and when.

The night before the outside lights constantly flick on and off and heads press against the windows. Is it snowing yet?…Is it still snowing?…Are the flakes big?…Are the flakes small?…Is it laying on the roads?…Can you still see the grass? Imagine the amazing grades that could be achieved if the same amount of attention to detail that is given to the falling of frozen ice crystals was given to the nightly homework assignment or the studying for tomorrow’s test!

For most students, a snow day is like an unexpected gift-a WHOLE DAY off from school in the middle of the week!

For parents, however, snow days don’t produce the same amount of joy that they once did. The question of what to do with your children when the day ahead seems endless and the roads are too treacherous to navigate can give even the most creative parent a run for their money.  The good news is with a little thought & inspiration, you can use your snow day as an opportunity to create lasting memories with your children.

Inside fun:

  1.   Stay in your PJ’s all day
  2.   Make homemade cookies
  3.   Build a fort of old boxes & sofa cushions
  4.   Build a tent with a sheet
  5.   Watch family movies together like Snow Dogs or Snow Day
  6.   Turn on some upbeat music and make a music video
  7.   Make Snow Ice Cream
  8.   Make maple syrup “candy” with snow (think Little House on the Prairie!)
  9.   Curl up on the couch with a hot cup cocoa and read a good book. Or two. Or three!
  10. Play board games or card games.  Maybe have a tournament!
  11. Feed the birds by stringing popcorn or making a pine cone birdfeeder
  12. Let the kids choose the dinner menu and have them help you cook
  13. Have a pretend fashion shoot
  14. Do a family arts & craft project.  The internet is full of amazing DIY projects!

Outside fun:

  1. Have a good old-fashioned snowball fight!!!
  2. Make a snowman.
  3. Make snow angels.
  4. Build a snow fort.
  5. Go sledding. No sled, no worries! Go cardboard sledding!
  6.  Play some snow games

So parents, hang in there, embrace the fun, and remember a snow day is a temporary situation…until Old Man Winter blows through town again!


I Have a Dream…

January 15, 2016

Every year on the 3rd Monday of January, Americans celebrate the life and legacy of  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Thanks to the vision and courage of this tireless clergyman turned civil rights activist, today the United States is a nation where everyone has equal rights regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin.

But is that really the case??

Despite the amazing strides we as a country have made with respect to equality for all people since the time of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., just pick up the newspaper or surf the internet to see that his dream is still unfulfilled.  Racial prejudice and social segregation still exists and is tolerated in many parts of our great nation.  Each one of us has the opportunity to make a difference and see past race, color, creed and origin and celebrate our uniqueness rather than focusing on distrust and hate.  Through our example, we can continue to spread the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This past week, Ms. Gayle Segall, Media Specialist at Middlesex Elementary School, showcased the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during her instruction with her students, hoping to impart to them the importance of those who fought so hard for equality for all people. Many of the youngsters look at her not fully appreciating the enormity of the events of the sixties, but for those of us closer to the days of segregation and inequality, this national holiday is a humble reminder of an important part of American history and a lesson for us all to ponder…for those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it.

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Middlesex County Public Schools will be closed for students & staff on Monday, January 18th in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

New Year…New Blog!

January 8, 2016

Welcome to the newly revamped Middlesex County Public Schools Blog!

What is a blog?  A blog is a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

The purpose of the Middlesex County Public Schools blog is to present information, opinion, and food for thought on topics and items of interest pertaining to our students, parents, administrators, school system & community.

As a both a parent with children in two schools as well as an employee in the MCPS technology department, I hope to bring a unique perspective to the Middlesex County Public Schools Blog.  New blog entries will be posted regularly, some showcasing a recent event or accomplishment of our students or schools and others more topical and thought-provoking about a pressing issue in today’s world.

I welcome feedback, topic recommendations and offers for guest bloggers!  Contact me at I look forward to hearing from you!

SCW Shamrock Shuffle

January 12, 2015


The SCW staff is in the process of planning the Shamrock Shuffle 5k and Kids Fun Run!  The event is scheduled for Saturday, March 14.  The first event will be a kids race, beginning at 8:00am, every participant will receive a medal.  At 8:30am the 5k will line up at the St Clare Walker bus loop.  The 5k is designed for competitors of all abilities, runners, walkers, and everyone in between.  5k awards will go to the top male and female overall, and the top male and female in each age group will receive an award.

Register from now until February 28th for just $25, after February 28th the cost will go up to $30.  You can pick up a registration form in the SCW Office, or register online at Shamrock Shuffle Online Registration

Packet Pickup will occur on Friday, March 13th between 4pm and 6pm.  Late registration will occur on Saturday, March 14th between the hours of 7:30 and 8:00am in St Clare Walker Middle School.

If you are not interested in running, but would like to volunteer for the event, please contact Laura Norris at and let her know you would like to help!

SCW Relay For Life Team Surpasses Goal

May 24, 2014

Relay 2014

St. Clare Walker’s Relay For Life team had their most successful year yet! The team, made up of SCA and Builders Club members, raised over $1,900! Throughout the 2013-2014 school year, the team held multiple fundraisers to help combat cancer. Starting back in October, a movie night was held where students paid an entry charge to watch a movie on the big screen in the auditorium and enjoy delicious snacks during intermission. A second movie night was held in April. Hat Days were a huge hit because students were able to pay to wear a hat all day and show their support in the fight against cancer.

The Friday before Spring break, the SCA and Builders Club hosted their yearly Variety Show for the entire school. All admission fees went to the Relay For Life team’s cause. This is an annual event so be sure to look for information so that you can attend next year!

One of the most successful fundraisers was the annual coin drive competition. This is a yearly competition held in the spring to see which homeroom can come together to collect the most money for the American Cancer Society. This year’s winning homeroom was Mrs. Harrow’s sixth grade group. The homeroom raised over $140!

The night of the big event, the team sold pizza, drinks, and pixie sticks to put forth their last donation. Everyone enjoyed a night of fun, while the whole time, remembering and honoring those who have fought cancer or are continuing the fight. Emilie Smith, SCA president, who has participated in Relay For Life for the past three years, describes the experience as a “fun and exciting way to fight cancer.”

A special recognition goes to Hannah Williams who was the team’s top fundraiser. Hannah has been SCW’s top fundraiser for the past three years!

The SCW team would like to thank everyone who has supported the team this year. Please continue to listen and watch for future events and fundraisers!

Emilie Smith, SCA president, has participated in Relay For Life for the past three years while at SCW, she describes the experience as a “fun and exciting way to fight cancer.”

SCW FIRST Robotics Team Competes at Regionals

November 14, 2013

On November 9, 2013, the FIRST Robotics team from St. Clare Walker Middle School attended the regional competition at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond. SCW Club members have been preparing for two months and developed an invention, prototype, and programmed a robot to perform specific tasks.

FIRST Robotics Club 2013- 1st Place Research Project

Standing from left to right – Jacob Winn, Jerry Lindsey, Chloe Hodges, Kenneth Beam, Tyler Radabaugh, Jack Graulich, Jack Ruark. Kneeling in front – Cole Ruark

This year, FIRST Robotics had a theme of “Nature’s Fury,” which includes all natural disasters. The team developed an invention that would help people prepare, survive, and recover from a hurricane. Students came up with the “Flash Wall,” a device that resembles a wall that pops up from the ground using hydraulics surrounding your home.  The Flash Wall should theoretically prevent water from reaching your home during flash floods resulting from hurricanes.

The SCW team researched damage to Middlesex County from Hurricane Isabel in 2003.  The students came up with an alternate resource to use to make the Flash Wall with cenocell, a material made from compressed coal ash.  Each year, 125 million pounds of waste can be recycled into cenocell.  This material is lighter, cheaper, stronger, and more environmentally friendly than concrete.  For additional guidance, the students interviewed Mark Nugent, Emergency Services Coordinator for Middlesex County, and he gave his opinion on different aspects of the Flash Wall prototype and presentation.

For the competition, students were required to build a LEGO Mindstorms robot that would perform tasks on an official FIRST Robotics mat.  The robot had to be programmed to complete tasks such as pushing a person from one place to another, pushing a lever that released an airplane, and capturing objects on the mat.  At the competition, the students were evaluated on the robot’s performance and robot design, the project solution, and a core values test.  FIRST Robotics insists each member much be respectful of each other and enjoy themselves at the competition.  The core values test graded each of the FIRST Robotics members on their teamwork and graciousness throughout the whole competition, as well as how they treated others.

The SCW team achieved highly in each category and received first place for their research project, which included scoring on the presentation to the judges.  Unfortunately, the SCW team did not qualify to advance to the state competition, but the students are very pleased with their win and learned a lot.  The students look forward to performing even better in all categories next year.

Students on the SCW FIRST Robotics team include  Kenneth Beam, Jack Graulich, Chloe Hodges, Jerry Lindsey, Tyler Radabaugh, Cole Ruark, Jack Ruark, and Jacob Winn.  Team member Brayden Miller was unable to attend.  The team was coached by Matthew Short, SCW Technology Teacher, and mentored by Kathy Ruark, technology coordinator for Middlesex County Public Schools.

Written by Jack Graulich and Tyler Radabaugh

Interactive Algebra at SCW

October 28, 2013

A student’s interactive notebook from Mrs. Norris’ class.

This year all of Mrs. Norris’ students have been working on an interactive notebook in algebra. Their notebook is a mathematic tool that will represent their experience in math class. These students have created foldables, color coordinated notes, investigated vocabulary meanings, and much more. At this time, Mrs. Norris’ algebra class is working on Unit 2, which covers equations and inequalities. Along with their interactive notebook, the students created posters illustrating their ability to construct algebraic proofs.


Algebraic proof posters on display in the hallway.

In addition to the posters, students also played a game using equation cards. The objective of the game was to match the steps for solving an equation.  Students determined the order of play.  On an individual’s turn, the student picked the card with the equation on it and picked a card with the first step in solving the equation.  The next player picked a card that would be the next step in solving the equation.  They continued play until the equation was solved.  After solving the equation, players picked another equation to be solved and started over.

equation game

Briana Rios, Ivie Santiago, and Tyler Scott playing the equation game.

Mrs. Norris states, “The interactive notebooks have made my students more responsible for their own learning. They have become more involved in the lessons, more attentive during the activities, and more precise in their note taking.”

Written by Laura Norris

Project Based Learning in 4th Grade at MES

October 15, 2013

Fourth grade at MES has gotten off to an exciting year.


Students display their maps of the regions of Virginia.

Students have done numerous hands on projects as well as engaging lessons in various subject areas. While studying Virginia Geography, students replicated the map of Virginia using play dough and cookie mix. They were required to label the five regions of Virginia, as well as the products and industries of each region.


Heather Evans, assistant principal, and Amy Stamm, principal, with Virginia dough maps.

While studying Scientific Investigation, the students were transformed into scientists. Through a thrilling hands-on activity using Diet Coke and Mentos, they worked their way through the six steps of the Scientific Method.


Students prepare for the scientific experiment.

They were required to ask a question, research the material, make a hypothesis, perform an experiment, analyze data, and make a conclusion. While conducting the experiment, we used multiple variables that altered the outcome of the experiment.


Teachers scatter as the explosion takes place!

It is very important to connect what the students are learning in the classroom with the real world and allow them to see the relevance of what is being taught.

Written by Sara Spain

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