Judson Middle teacher Brian Ross has tapped his network of friends and former colleagues to build a stockpile of college T-shirts as an academic incentive for students at his school.

Judson teacher helps students with T-shirt program

Tue Aug 29, 2017

Brian Ross has a whole closet full of branded college gear at home. From T-shirts and caps to polo shirts and jackets, he amassed quite a collection over six years working in college sports. In his new career, as a teacher, he’s still collecting college athletics apparel, but for a completely different purpose.

Ross, an eighth grade inclusion teacher at Judson Middle School, has tapped his network of friends and former colleagues to build a stockpile of T-shirts branded with a variety of university names and logos. He uses the shirts as an incentive for students at his school, giving them away to students who show academic improvement, hard work or good citizenship.

Both Ross and the T-shirt program — hesitantly named the College Colors Co-Op — are in just their second full year at Judson. The idea started as a way to help more students participate in the occasional “free dress” days periodically declared by school administrators. On these days, usually Fridays following a week of good behavior school-wide, students are allowed to wear Judson or Longview High spirit shirts, or T-shirts sporting a college name or logo, instead of the standard uniform polo.

“I remember what it’s like to be a kid,” Ross said. “You jump at any chance to show a bit of individualism, and free dress day is one of the few times our students can choose clothes that let them stand out a little. Not everybody has a spirit shirt or a college shirt at home, and I wanted everyone to have the chance to participate.”

Ross says he didn’t really know what to expect when he hatched the idea last year. He put out some feelers via social media and got a strong response from his network, gathering shirts from several different departments at Stephen F. Austin State University, where he and his wife worked for several years. Former colleagues at Sam Houston State also contributed, as did family friends from his hometown and even a former high school teammate, who shipped a box of Midwestern State shirts from Wichita Falls, Texas.

“When I was working at SFA, we used to joke about how college kids would do anything for a T-shirt,” Ross said. “It didn’t even have to be a cool design. ‘Free shirts? We’re there!’ I didn’t know if middle schoolers would feel the same way, because I didn’t have many shirts from the major programs that they see on TV every Saturday.”

As it turned out, young teens have at least one thing in common with college students.

“Any student who came into my room would ask about the stack of shirts in the back,” Ross said. “I didn’t have real solid criteria for who got shirts and who didn’t. If I see you working hard in class and treating people well, then yeah, go pick one out.”

Ross says he gave out about 40 shirts, mostly to eighth-graders, last school year. For 2017-18, he wants to expand his reach, taking nominations from sixth- and seventh-grade teachers, for deserving students in classes that he doesn’t see every day. Based on the initial response to his first request of the year, he expects to have plenty of shirts to go around.

“I’ve already gotten a box of shirts, bags and earbuds from a good friend who is director of the alumni association at Mississippi State,” he said. “And I got a bunch of shirts and fidget-spinners from TSTC, thanks to a teacher friend in another district. If all the people who committed to donating this year come through, we should have more than a hundred shirts to work with.”

The requirements are still loose, more about attitude and effort than grades and achievements. Ross wants to reward students for going the extra mile in their academics as well as their citizenship. This year, students receiving shirts will write thank you notes to the person who donated their shirt.

“If your teacher tells you that you need to come to a study group before or after school, and you make it five days in a row, working hard, that’s worth a shirt,” he said. “Same thing if a teacher or administrator sees you go out of your way to be kind to a fellow student. I want to encourage positive behaviors in all areas.”

Ross also has a more subtle, long-term goal behind the program.

“We’re all, as teachers, trying to change the students’ expectations for themselves,” he said. “Both here in this building, with how they work and how they treat each other, and also for after they leave here. I want them to believe that they can go to college and be successful. Will wearing a shirt with a logo on it help that? Maybe not. But it can’t hurt.”

If you would like to contribute to this program, please contact Brian Ross at bcross@lisd.org or call (903) 446-2610.