I’ve been haunted by school motivational posters since the first grade. I couldn’t help but stare at those colorful “Be Yourself” and “Individuality” signs that hung at random points all over the building.
But in elementary school “being yourself” and “individuality” came naturally to most of us. Whereas now in high school, we’re insecure about our “individuality” and being excluded from the “in” crowd.
Throughout my years in school I’ve never experienced cliques like they describe in teen novels such as “The Clique Books” or “Pretty Little Liars.” In my earlier days, I read late into the night about a queen bee who ruled the school with her vicious gossip and lies. I thought for sure this is what my high school years would mimic, and wondered how I would survive. Sleepovers were spent watching movies like “Clueless” or “Bring It On” and laughing at all the hilarious jokes (half of which I didn’t understand) but at the same time, fearing that I would be subject to this humiliation in due time.
In elementary school, I had heard about middle school and knew how many kids would be joining my grade and I feared it with a passion. What if, just like in the books, there was a vicious clique that could rip you apart in seconds and ruin your life?
When I finally became an agitating middle school student, there wasn’t a group of girls who wore pink on Wednesdays and jeans on Fridays like the “plastics” from Mean Girls. I didn’t walk through the hallways in fear some clique might try throw my in a trash can. I’ve come to realize that cliques aren’t what they are portrayed in books and movies, they are actually a necessity for a high school student.
At East we don’t have that kind of reigning clique. With such a large population, it’s hard for students to gain the status of “ruling the school.” In a small school where there are maybe only 60 kids to a grade level, a tight group of ten kids can be louder, showier and more hurtful to the other 50 kids in the class.
The cliques at East that I see are made up of kids with shared interests and activities. They hang out together because they like to do the same things. Debaters debate. Choir kids sing.
There are the theater kids who stay at school late into the night constructing scenery, making costumes and rehearsing for the upcoming production. They think nothing of devoting an entire Saturday to building sets and painting flats, just for doing something they enjoy, not because they have to.
The IB kids spend most of their school day with each other, moving from class to class together. They work on projects, study for tests and do homework in their own separate world.
The drill team can be found early in the morning waving flags and moving to the beat of the marching band. Easy to spot on game days with their black and blue uniforms, these ladies dance, plan fundraisers and travel together.
The amount of time spent together as a group in these activities helps those involved form a close bond. They create inside jokes, eat meals and spend a lot of time together.
But the recipe for cliques that we have at East doesn’t form the kind of hurtful clique you see in movies and TV shows.
I think there are a lot of positive aspects to these kinds of cliques. It helps a big school like Shawnee Mission East feel not so big. It helps even the most nervous freshman feel a sense of identity and belonging. Cliques help break a large public high school into smaller communities.
Walking into my first Student Council meeting freshman year, I felt as fidgety and nervous as a chipmunk. But as the year progressed, I grew to love my fellow members and enjoy the time we spend together during those early Wednesday mornings.
These kinds of activities can give kids an outlet other than academics and help them support and cheer each other on.
I don’t think I would perform half as well as I do in cross country without my friends standing on the sidelines giving me tips and pushing me on. In swimming, while panting at the wall after a hard set, we all congratulate each other and compare our thoughts on how awful we felt during the workout. Although my teammates and I are not always positive, it makes me feel better when I know that your teammates are feeling just as horrible as you.
With all the good that comes from the acceptance and support of cliques, there is also a negative side.
It is easy for kids in these activities to feel boxed in and hesitant to reach out to kids in other activities. For example, when I hangout with my friends on the soccer team I don’t always understand their inside jokes or lingo. But at the same time, they don’t understand my swimming jokes or specific StuCo information.
And what about the student who isn’t involved with anything? They could feel excluded and left behind by the new friendships their friends have formed. But with so many activities to choose from at East, it’s almost impossible not to get involved, or be apart of some sort of clique.
Cliques can be both a blessing and a curse. They can help us overcome our fears and meet new people but they can hold us back at the same time.