What’s it like wearing a school uniform?

I escaped primary school before uniforms were mandated.

Most students in Chatham County’s public schools aren’t so lucky. I can only imagine the toll their uniforms take on self expression. At East Broad every student wears a purple collared shirt with black bottoms and plain shoes. I learned quickly in my first semester as a Writing Fellow that even though these kids are forced to subscribe to very strict dress codes, they still find subtle ways to express their unique sense of style. My favorite was a boy who wore electric blue shoelaces. This was no accident. Each kid had at least one intentional badge of distinction—a bow, a bracelet, a jacket—to set themselves apart from their peers.

This is a great conversation starter with your DeepKids. What’s it like wearing a school uniform? How can you feel original in a room full of people dressed just like you? What’s your style like outside of school?

If you’re still fishing for a week one icebreaker, there you go. Now take a minute and let that marinate by listening to Express Yourself by Charles Wright.

These ideas are important because your first workshop should focus on two things:

1. Getting to know your DeepKids
2. Encouraging them to write about themselves

Both hinge on your kids’ ability to think of themselves as individuals. You can foster this by leading the discussion towards very personal things, like their names or their neighborhoods or the interesting ways they choose to jazz up their school uniforms.

If you go the names or neighborhoods route, there are two great vignettes I like to use from Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street—one titled “My Name“, the other “The House on Mango Street”.

As you talk to the kids about where they’re coming from, show genuine interest in their responses and don’t be afraid to share a little bit about yourself. Developing trust with your DeepKids is huge.

It’s also important to stress how unique our Deep workshops are. Even though they take place in a traditional classroom setting, I like to make sure my Deep kids understand that I’m not a teacher. This isn’t class, these aren’t assignments and I sure as rain am not here to give out letter grades. We’re writers—all of us!— and we’re going to work together over the next few weeks to polish and publish our ideas in a book. So, let’s create a culture where we feel comfortable writing and sharing those ideas.

Consider these questions as you continue preparing for week one:

What makes you unique? What would you add to a school uniform to retain a bit of personal identity? In what environment do you feel most creative? Where do you go to write? What are you most looking forward to learning about your DeepKids?