Collared shirts, plaid skirts, and knee-high socks took up the majority of the room in my closet until I became a freshman. It wasn’t because I lacked a sense of style—or my eyesight—but because if I wore anything else to school, I’d deeply regret it.
Catholic schools tend to be strict like that.
Break the rules and there will be consequences.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely respect catholic schools because I’m the person I am today thanks to the amazing education I received, but the differences between catholic and public schools are significant.
The most obvious difference is the emphasis placed on religion. At my grammar and middle schools, every person was Catholic.
I had never met a single Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Atheist.
If you weren’t Catholic, I didn’t know you.
We would constantly read about different cultures and religions, but that’s all it was. Words on a page.
Another difference was how we began each morning. Every day, before my classmates and I said the pledge and sang the national anthem, we recited a series of prayers during homeroom. But we always had to make sure to say them loud enough and with emotion. For example, if there were a painful event in a prayer, you would try to look like you were suffering too. And it didn’t matter that it was 8 a.m. and no one was awake yet. If you didn’t say the prayer properly, the teacher would make you go up to the front of the room and recite the entire prayer or song for the rest of the class’s entertainment.
During homeroom there was also a sort of inspection. My teachers were always able to somehow pick up on even the slightest violations.
Make a single mistake and you were handed an Infraction, which was a white piece of paper that you had to sign, your parents had to sign, and then your teacher got to hold on to as a sort of trophy.
Infractions could be allotted for any breach of policy and nothing spreads Jesus’ message like meaningless punishment.
Girls usually received infractions for wearing nail polish, improper footwear—apparently UGG moccasins don’t count as school shoes—or for wearing a colored shirt that could be seen through the uniform white button-up blouse.
The smarter girls wore extremely light colored shirts that were practically unnoticeable while the adventurous tried—and failed—wearing neon shirts.
Another infraction-worthy infringement was a skirt that was more than three inches above the knee. A pleated plaid skirt does not flatter anyone so we all figured, the less you could see, the better.
The most common technique was to pull the elastic band of the skirt up to your waist—or higher if you wanted to risk it—and wear your uniform sweater over it. Then, when a nun or other member of the staff came into view you could quickly pull the skirt down so that it was a perfect three inches about your knee.
But we couldn’t wear our sweaters on the hot days so we had to opt for the more dangerous route—roll up the skirt at your hips and pull your tucked-in shirt out over it.
If you made the skirt too short or raised your hand high enough that the teacher could see the rolls, she whipped out her ruler and measured it.
Boys usually got infractions for not wearing their ties correctly, for having hair that touched the collar of their shirt, or for failing to wear a brown or black belt.
But there were ways around receiving infractions and detentions. The simplest being complete your homework and don’t break the rules—but nobody did that.
Instead, we all tried to make our lives even more complicated by seeing how far we could go before getting an infraction. Due to the repressive environment, it was always interesting to see who could rack up the most violations without getting caught.
It really was a trial and error process.
While the boys in my class tried to see if they could roll up their sleeves in a pathetic attempt to look cool, the girls were all mastering the art of skirt rolling.
Staples is the exact opposite of my grammar and middle schools. I don’t have to fear being handed an Infraction or being dragged up to the front of the classroom to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Staples students are granted the freedom of expression and can state their opinions or ideas without the fear of punishment, which was not always the case at my school.
Now, I happily wear t-shirts and jeans to school and don’t have to worry about being punished. And every time I wear UGGs or nail polish, I can’t help but smile.