Student Voices Leads to Updated School Uniform at Rothesay Netherwood School
Posted: 25 January 2022
Overview/ About the School:
Located in New Brunswick, Canada, Rothesay Netherwood School (RNS) is a progressive, independent, co-ed boarding and day school for Grades 6 to 12. At RNS, students are empowered to embrace their individuality while pursuing the greater good.
This ethos was put into action when a group of Senior School students advocated for changes to the school uniform to make it more inclusive.
Student feedback is extremely important at RNS. Students are strongly encouraged to express their views, make suggestions for improvement, and work with the senior leadership team to enhance experiences for the benefit of the entire student body.
RNS has a rich history with many traditions, the uniform being one of the most prevailing. School uniforms play a key role in promoting pride, self-confidence, and belonging within the student body. These factors contribute to students’ well-being, removing the additional pressures of deciding what to wear and added stress of meeting their peers’ expectations.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, a group of RNS Senior School students championed a permanent adjustment to the school uniform to include a pants option in #1 Dress for all students (instead of a tunic for girls). “We felt the change to the uniform was important because as society changes, it is important our school and community adapt to these changes,” says Sophie Milner, a graduate of the RNS Class of 2021 and member of the student committee that advocated for the uniform change. “People are more open and inclusive with gender identities and gender equality; students felt that changing the uniform was important, and we wanted RNS to continue to strive for inclusivity and comfort for everyone.” The tunic requirement was also an added expense for female students.
RNS is committed to creating a culture of mutual respect, understanding, and comfort amongst students who self-identify in different ways. It strives to function with peace and productivity while preserving individuality. It was apparent that the school uniform needed to be updated to keep the standard that it has worked hard to achieve.
After listening to the initial proposal, the RNS leadership team agreed with the students that change was needed. To ensure a transparent and consultative process, the school surveyed its student body on this proposal. Also, it sought feedback from its Board of Directors and employees – allowing all members of the school community to have their voices heard. Survey findings concluded that there was broad support to redefine the uniform options for the coming school year.
After the consultation, RNS finalized the new school dress code. Previously, the dress code for #1 Dress consisted of a tunic, a white dress shirt, a school tie, blazer, knee socks or tights, and brown, polishable shoes for girls. And grey pants, a black belt, a school tie, a blazer, dress socks and black, polishable shoes for boys. As mentioned, the tunic was a costly item, and brown shoes were difficult to source for girls.
As of the beginning of September 2021, the new #1 Dress code for all students consists of grey pants or a Blackwatch kilt, a white dress shirt, a school tie, a school blazer, and black tights or socks. This is worn with black polishable shoes and a black belt (with pants). The school is phasing out the tunic as a required piece of dress.
The collaborative effort has resulted in a new formal dress code that is more inclusive and equitable for all students. As much as history played a pivotal role, the students’ needs were highly valued and considered and drove the conversation forward. “We had great mentors and supporters to help us achieve our goals, including from the leadership team,” says Sophie Milner. “We’re satisfied with the result, but we recognize that there is still work to be done and more changes to be considered. We’re very happy that future students get to benefit from the changes. Our hope is to make students feel more comfortable expressing who they are and provide inclusivity on the campus. Another goal we have is to inspire future students to make RNS a better place for everyone.”
Current RNS student Kirsten Dunn agrees: “We believe the uniform change was necessary within the RNS community because it allows students who are not binary-gender conforming to have the ability to wear other options to create a more inclusive community. It enables students who didn’t feel comfortable in the kilt or the tunic for personal reasons or potential religious obligations. I am very proud to be a part of the school as it grows and adapts to positive change for the benefit of all the students here at Rothesay Netherwood School.”
The Class of 2021 was a flagship cohort, signaling the impact that student voices and democracy can have within the school community and how combined, these things can work to improve school life.
Advice for Other Round Square Schools:
- Create opportunities for students to have a leadership role throughout all grades. This allows students to voice their opinions to those in a position of leadership, where it can then be passed on to someone in a higher position of power. At RNS, we implemented Round Councils to promote student-led leadership and peer-to-peer mentorship. We have councils for the six Round Square IDEALS and two RNS-specific councils in 1). internationalism, democracy, environmentalism, adventure, leadership, and service and 2). wellness and school culture. The councils meet bi-weekly and are student-led by the Senior School Prefects responsible for that area. Each council also has a Middle School Ambassador assigned to it as well. The introduction of the new RNS Round Councils has enabled approximately 50 new leadership opportunities in our school that directly impact activities, events, and decisions.
- Create a clear process for change to be proposed and considered. Not all students have had experience with change management, and they will find this helpful. Provide precise steps to follow and help them engage with the range of stakeholders included in the process. This is an ideal opportunity for them to learn about leadership through the lens of change.
- Support student efforts to consult with others and develop an action plan. Having evidence to back an initiative is essential when looking to create a change within school, whether big or small. Getting surveys or signatures on a petition is a good way to show that the idea is supported by students throughout the school. Once this is done, present a solution to the issue – this makes it more likely for the change to be made if a clear solution is in sight.
Author: Heather MacLean BPR, BJ, MPub, Director of Marketing and Communications, Rothesay Netherwood School