Faith Perry’s clothes do not change.
Every day, she wears the same ruffled, flowery blouse, black slacks and black sneakers to Mohonasen High School, where she teaches English as a second language and works with at-risk students in the high school’s alternative education program.
Perry’s unchanging attire is a statement against bullying.
She said she decided to stop changing her clothes after one of her poorer students was mocked last year for wearing the same pants two days in a row. “I said, ‘Knock it off, guys — I wore the same pants yesterday.’ ” The incident inspired Perry to wear the same outfit for the final four months of the year, and resume wearing it this year. She said she plans to get a new outfit for next year, and wear it every day.
Perry’s message is simple.
“It doesn’t matter what’s on the outside,” she said. “It’s your character and treatment of others that matters.”
Perry, 39, said she stresses that hygiene and cleanliness matter, and that it’s important to look professional. She washes the clothes regularly and said that if she wore dirty clothes, it’s unlikely she would have the backing of Mohonasen High School Principal David Collins.
Collins said he supports Perry’s anti-bullying initiative wholeheartedly and that it fits in with her overall approach to teaching.
“She does a tremendous job of taking into account the whole child,” he said. “She teaches at a high caliber. She comes in every day and maintains high standards.”
Perry spoke about her anti-bullying initiative last week to students at Pinewood Intermediate School via the Pinewood Scoop, the school’s TV news program.
This week, a number of Pinewood teachers are following Perry’s lead and wearing the same clothes every day. Pinewood Principal Deborah Kavanaugh said she plans to wear the same standard black professional work clothes to work all week long.
Perry’s anti-bullying initiative “struck me as a powerful statement to make,” Kavanaugh said. She said that students are under a lot of pressure from their peers and the media to dress and look a certain way.
A Pattersonville native, Perry has been a teacher for 14 years and a teacher at Mohonasen High School for six years. She said that she became a teacher to change children’s lives for the better, and that she enjoys working with at-risk youth.
“I’ve always been passionate about making sure people are treated with kindness,” Perry said. “I have no tolerance for anyone being bullied for any reason.” She said she wouldn’t describe herself as someone who was bullied in school, but she does know what it’s like to be different. As a result of a flesh-eating virus, she only has four fingers on one of her hands.
Eighteen-year-old Nicholas Rapp has known Perry since he was a freshman in her Spanish class, but he didn’t notice that Perry had worn the same clothes every day until she pointed it out.
“It didn’t change my opinion of her,” he said.
Instead, it gave him food for thought.
“In high school, it’s all about who you know and what you wear,” he said. “She’s definitely made me think that the people who talk to me because of who I am and not what I wear are my real friends.”
Now a student in the alternative education program, Rapp credits Perry with helping him get through high school, describing her as a “second mom. Whenever I need help, she’s there to help me,” he said.
Rapp said that when he was younger, he struggled academically and had trouble getting to school; Perry helped him with his class work and homework. Now he’s planning to attend Hudson Valley Community College to study nursing next year.
Mohonasen’s alternative education program serves middle and high school students who have struggled in school, providing them with additional academic support.
In recent years, schools have placed a much greater emphasis on addressing bullying.
In March, Mohonasen middle and high school students participated in a program called “Challenge Day,” which encouraged students to celebrate diversity, truth and full expression, and break down barriers and get to know each other better.
Mohonasen High School has about 1,050 students. Most of them are from Rotterdam.