Last week, 10 students from the Bulloch County Performance Learning Center (BCPLC) took the stage to participate in the first-ever Dress for Success Fashion Show held in the William James Educational Complex cafeteria. With cameras flashing amid “oohs” and “aahs “from the audience, the students looked the part of high school graduates interviewing for their first job.
"The primary purpose of the fashion show was to not only to tell students, but show students how they should dress for an interview or for the workplace," said Marsha Arnett, business education facilitator of the BCPLC. "It was an opportunity to show the students that they can dress fashionably and stylishly in the workplace without looking drab and boring."
Arnett said many students have the mistaken idea that they have to wear suits and uncomfortable clothing in order to dress professionally.
"I think many of the students Thursday were surprised to find that many of the outfits were actually things they would wear," she said. "I had one student speak of one of the outfits by saying, 'I really like that outfit!'”
Bulloch County Performance Learning Center's academic coordinator Daniel Edenfield said the learning center is a small, non-traditional school designed for students who are not reaching their educational potential in their present school environment. Typically, this performance shortfall is evidenced by students who: are off track for graduation; are chronically late or absent; have a lack of interest in school or learning or who are unable to cope with a structured school environment and, therefore, are at risk of dropping out of school.
With 70 students currently enrolled in the BCPLC, administrators are out to change student perceptions of what it takes to be successful in the workplace.
"Over time as more and more emphasis is given to dressing professionally, and as we have people come in from the business community who model what it means to dress professionally, there is a good chance that student perceptions about professional dress will change," Arnett said.
One of the local business community members tapped to help with the fashion show was Denise Aldrich, an area sales manager with the Belk's Department Store chain. Aldrich served as coordinator for the event, and Belk's provided the clothing for the models.
Aldrich was candid with the students when she spoke at the conclusion of the show.
"How you dress directly affects how people perceive you," Aldrich said. "The way you dress makes a statement about yourself to world out there."
Aldrich told the students that it is natural to want people to like you for who you are regardless of how you may look, but that isn't the reality of the workplace today.
"The more successful you want to be, the more changes you will have to make," she said. "You are going to have to work hard and look the part if you want to achieve success, and that is just the way it is."
Many of the parents nodded in agreement as Aldrich spoke, including Tammy Davis. Davis has two daughters, Ali and Alaina who attend the BCPLC. Ali Davis was a model in the program.
"They are teaching the children here to be professionally oriented, that first appearances count for a lot," Tammy Davis said. "They want these children to have a good outlook and they are giving them the mindset to prepare for what is out there when they graduate."
Arnett said it is too early to tell if student perceptions had changed.
"This fashion show is something that I plan to do each year," she said. "The purpose of this event is to show students how to dress appropriately in the workplace and to show them how to mix and match articles of clothing to get several different looks without spending a lot of money. We want our students to be successful when they graduate. This is an important part of that."One of 23 Performance Learning Centers in the state of Georgia, the BCPLC was formed in partnership with the Bulloch County School System and Communities in Schools of Georgia. The mission of the BCPLC is to provide students the opportunity to successfully learn, stay in school, develop marketable skills, graduate from high school, and become productive citizens. It is located in the William James Educational Complex