MANASSAS, VIRGINIA — Each Monday at Mayfield Intermediate School in Manassas, Virginia, you'll find boys dressed in suits with ties and girls wearing dresses or skirts and blouses.
It's a far cry from the usual jeans and sweatshirts common in American classrooms.
Almost 700 students at Mayfield participate in the "Dress for Success" program, which educators believe can enhance students’ behavior and, they hope, achievement in school and in life.
Diana Otero, 10, is one of those students.
“What am I going to wear to school today?” is what she asks herself each morning, but not on Mondays. That’s when she puts on a nice outfit that makes her feel "important and confident."
At school, Diana and the other well-dressed students attend their regular Monday classes and their activities as usual.
This is Diana’s first year in the "Dress for Success" program. “I thought it would help me improve my grades.”
Doing better in school is also what attracted Shawn Arrigo.
“If you, like, feel good and you're, like, sitting and it's comfortable, you’re not going to have any problems focusing,” Shawn says, adding he does better in class when he’s dressed up. “It makes me feel more mature.”
It also makes him look like one of his role models, school principal Jeff Abt, who introduced the program three years ago.
“I think it presented a climate where the students say, ‘I’ve worked hard, I’m dressed in my best and I’m going to do my best on this day,’” Abt says.
Erika Redler, a teacher at the school, sees a big difference in student behavior on Mondays.
“The kids who dress for success are already in that, like, head-up, shoulder-back, good-morning kind of mood," she says. "They start the day off right. When they have that attitude, their behavior is usually better for the rest of the day.”
Redler sees the program as an opportunity to encourage students to take themselves seriously and improve their grades.
“When you’re taking yourself more seriously, then you’re probably going to be doing what you’re supposed to be doing in class, which means you’re going to be doing better at school," Redler says. "But I think we’re still working toward that goal.”
That’s why there are "Dress for Success" posters throughout the hallways, encouraging students to join the program. Abt says dressing up on Mondays doesn't require new or expensive clothing.
“Our kids come from different economic backgrounds," Abt says, "so if they wear a collared shirt, that will be considered Dress for Success."
Abt hopes the lessons students learn through this program will help them make better decisions in high school and after graduation.
“If you go to an interview, you’re normally looking at your closet saying, ‘What’s the best thing in there to show that person I’m the best person for the job?’” he says.
His students are getting plenty of practice answering that question now, while they have fun dressing up and feeling like adults.