Leading Source

What’s that smell? Could be the student body

Do your high school students stink?
I’m not talking, mind you, about their academic performance. I mean, do your kids stink literally? As in body odor?

The answer is, apparently, a resounding Yes across much of the country. Unbeknownst to me, high school students have given up on the after-gym shower.

Actually, they gave up on school showers in the 1990s.

That’s what I’ve just learned after doing a bit of research that looked as far back as the 1980s. At the end of the Reagan era, I’ve found, a slew of media accounts reported that gym teachers were having a tough time dealing with teenagers who skipped the post-gym shower.

Some students claimed there wasn’t enough time to fit in a shower between classes. The reality, of course, was that students were avoiding the typical adolescent embarrassment that surrounds showering around other teens.

At that time, schools were tougher about hygiene. “Showers are required as part of the grade,” one teacher explained.

By the mid-1990s, however, educators were beginning to tire of the constant struggle for good hygiene. In schools across the nation, school personnel just accepted harsh reality and dropped all rules on mandatory showers.

It didn’t hurt that the American Civil Liberties Union found a way to turn school showers into a civil rights issue. The ACLU threatened to sue one Pennsylvania school system over its shower rules, which allowed a teacher to peek under a towel to make sure students weren’t wearing underwear into the shower.

Thus showers went the way of the dodo bird. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid take a shower,” one California athletic director said in 1996.

So why am I bringing up ancient history? Well, for one, I am surprised that this cultural phenomenon occurred—and that I never noticed it. No one takes showers after gym class? Isn’t hygiene a matter of some importance in an educational setting? Isn’t hygiene an issue that should be modeled in a school?

And how come today’s kids get a free pass—when I, a scrawny acne-scarred teen, had to endure such humiliation in the 1970s?

Another reason to share my surprise is that I just read an Orlando Sentinel article revisiting the issue this week. Taking a school shower apparently is an unfathomable concept for today’s teens. They don’t avoid the shower. To avoid something, you have to actually consider its existence in the first place.

“Well, we’re not going to go naked,” one student told the Sentinel, who apparently was “stunned anyone would suggest otherwise.”

As it turns out, someone is trying to make a buck out of this gross teenage aversion to cleanliness. According to the newspaper, a Maryland-based company, My Kids Stink, is marketing the QwikShower Wipes, a super-large antiseptic swipe designed to ease the stench emanating from today’s youth.

The idea came about, says its inventor, after he noticed a rank smell surrounding his three kids—all student athletes. “It was just kind of gross.”

No doubt. Which raises the question? Have you taken a good sniff of your students recently?

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 5th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Wellness, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

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