KAPA‘A — Kapaa Middle School students probably threw out their eighth-grade T-shirts, saved up their allowances, and inspected new fashions on MTV and in magazines, looking forward to the endless “free-dress days” in high school.
But from the school year beginning later this month and beyond, Kapaa High students will be wearing school T-shirts as uniforms every school day.
Students voted on colors, logos and designs, so the new policy is not a surprise. Still, student opinions on the new, required uniforms varied with the start of the school year approaching at the end of this month.
“You can’t please everybody,” commented one parent as she looked through the heaps of T-shirts.
Kapaa school complex’s School-Community-Based Management council (SCBM) introduced the idea following years of student “non-participation” in the school-wear policy, which forbade midriffs, too much cleavage, spaghetti straps, short shorts, and clothing with drug, gang or sexual themes.
Most Warriors are familiar with uniforms, as Kapaa Middle School has required grade level T-shirts since the campus opened in 1997 (with Fridays as free-dress days). Kapaa Elementary students wear school shirts on excursions.
Activity was brisk as students and parents began picking up the school uniforms Monday at the school’s music building that was converted into a fashion warehouse for the week-long registration, fee-payment and T-shirt pickup period.
Incoming ninth graders volunteered to help parents and students find their orders and “go shopping.” According to a volunteer manning the check-in table, about 300 parents showed up between the hours of 7 a.m. and noon Monday, each leaving with between five and 10 T-shirts.
The winner of the student-design contest was “Ring of Fire,” which features sea turtles in a circular swimming formation, drawn by 11th grader Blair Pigao.
There are at least six choices for males and females, on gray, stone-washed blue and green, black and green shirts for the boys; and white, yellow, light blue, black, lavender and pink for girls.
Girls’ designs include sleeveless or cap-sleeved “baby tees,” and short- or long-sleeved V-neck T-shirts. The logos include the traditional “K” with a warrior and “K” with flames. The girls’ logos include a retro Kapaa High School emblem; flower lei; and hibiscus logo.
The shirts were produced by a Kapaa silk-screener who also makes the school’s athletic shirts.
Principal Gilmore Youn said the school will eventually offer aloha shirts and polo shirts for students and interested parents and teachers. School clubs, classes or athletic teams will be able to wear their selected shirts. If a student wears a non-approved or altered garment, they will have to change clothes, and be charged for a replacement.
The uniforms cost $5 to $15.
“I think it’s a good idea. It’s really cheap, about $40 for five T-shirts to buy the kid’s whole wardrobe for the year. And the parents are happy,” said Youn.
Popular, brand-name T-shirts, like Billabong or Quiksilver can cost twice that much, he added.
“As a mother, it’s easier, because I don’t have to take her shopping,” said Joy Medeiros, who was with 11th-grade daughter Ryndi. “I think it was better before, but now we’ll all be wearing the same thing,” Ryndi Medeiros said.
One 10th grader said she disagreed with having to choose “girl-style” shirts, and picked up three “boy” shirts instead. She said she got in trouble once last year for wearing something a little too sheer.
“I do think it’s going to be better, because some people do overdress,” she said.
“I just went through three years of this,” lamented incoming ninth grader Lani Panoke, who was trying out one of her baby tees.
“Just when I thought I would be able to wear what I want, they make us wear more uniforms,” she added, checking her T-shirt for fit. Sister Anela Panoke, a junior, said, “I want to dress freely.”
Michelle Panoke, the girls’ mother, said she was pleased with the new uniforms. The uniforms would prevent the girls from dressing too scantily, and liked the fact that the shirts are “reasonably priced,” she said.
Moana DeSilva, a junior, echoed the other girls’ sentiments about not being able to choose their own fashions.
Despite these personal feelings, there was an air of excitement as the students warily peeked through their bundles of uniforms, studying each one as if it came from the most fashionable boutique.
“I didn’t like it ‘cause now you can’t wear what you want. You have to walk around and look like everybody else,” said Marlyssa Vidinha, a freshman who confessed she was pleasantly surprised by the variety in styles and colors.
Her grandmother, Bernadette Vidinha, said that kids need rules, because some do dress inappropriately for school.
“We did have students who were able to dress appropriately, so it was the personal choice of the students” to opt for uniforms, said Diane Ayre, vice principal.
In Kapaa High’s SCBM, students were the only group to vote against uniforms, Youn said earlier. Waimea High School allowed its students to draft a dress code, and Kauai High also has a policy.
Kauai High’s Parents In Support of Raider Students (PAIRS) president said the policy hasn’t been strictly enforced, and wasn’t discussed last school year.
“It’s a hot issue because the dress code issue is one that (students) have ownership with,” said Bill Arakaki, Waimea High principal.
“We need to have an open forum with the students on how we can be unique in the school without having to dress like everyone else,” said Arakaki.
Most Westside kids dress conservatively, anyhow, he added.
Kapaa High PTSA president Cathy Cram said that about 75 percent of parents were in support of the policy in a recent poll. The PTSA is providing one T-shirt to each student who qualifies for free or reduced-priced meals.
Tara Bonilla, last year’s student-body president, helped get input from the students, Cram said.
“Not all of our students are thrilled, and some of our parents are not happy that their child has to wear a uniform, but for the most part it’s been positive,” Ayre said.
School starts for the Kapaa complex, excluding Hanalei Elementary School, on Monday, July 28.
The Kapaa High PTSA is sponsoring a back-to-school barbecue Thursday, Aug. 7 in the school courtyard, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Freshman orientation is set for Friday, July 25 at 7:45 a.m. School shirts are required at orientation.
Anyone interested in purchasing Kapaa High School T-shirts may do so at the school’s main office, or call 821-4400 for more information.