There's a good chance that at some point in your life, an adult or older sibling has told you that the best way to make the most of your high school years is to get involved.
Good advice, indeed. But what exactly does it mean to get involved? For a student who doesn't know what club to join or how to rise to the top of the extracurricular pyramid, it might be hard to decide which route to take. Should you test your analytic skills on the debate team? Search for deeper meaning with the poetry club? Argue for political reform at the Democrats meeting?
It is especially hard, as a freshman, to figure out what these organizations could do for you. Regardless of what you choose, here's a tip: Have school spirit. No matter what you do, a positive attitude toward your high school and the people who walk its halls can help you adjust to being back at school. It might even make you feel glad that you're back in the classroom and not lounging by the pool.
Sarah Miller, a junior at Gowanda High School, says school spirit plays a big role in student life and can help a teen feel more at home in a high school environment.
"It's who you are at the moment," she said. "It's what your life is about. If you don't support your high school, then you don't have a lot to support."
Miller dresses up as Gowanda's mascot -- a black panther -- for sports games and school events. "My basketball coach freshman year had asked me to do it for senior night, so I did it, and it was really fun," she said. "Now whenever they need someone to do it, I'm usually the one."
For some students, joining student council is one way to express school spirit.
Naomi Skarupinski is senior class president at Alden High School. She says that everyone involved in student council has one goal in common -- to do things that promote and celebrate the school.
"At Alden, school spirit is the basis of everything," she said. "Last year our football team went to Ralph Wilson Stadium. Our entire community -- even the mailman -- was there. It reflects how important school spirit is, not just to the school but to the whole community."
The student council organizes spirit days such as pajama day and neon day that are fun and easy to execute, as well as other activities.
"Everyone should experience something like school spirit at least by the end of the year," Skarupinski said. "The thing with school spirit is that sometimes you don't even notice it -- you don't notice that you're unified."
Charlotte Kramer, a freshman at Buffalo State College, was Alden's mascot -- a bulldog -- while she was in high school. "It allowed me to have fun and make a spectacle of myself," she said. "Most people didn't even know it was me, so it's cool to go out there and have people not know who you are but still connect with you and put you on a high pedestal."
That's the point when it comes to school spirit, she says -- it doesn't matter who you are.
"People can step back and put their differences aside," she said.
Alden has an annual "Battle of the Classes," in which each grade level comes together to compete against the others. Students paint their faces and make T-shirts that demonstrate friendly rivalry between grades. "It's a chance for you to be goofy and show your spirit," Kramer said.
Dan Kezerashvili, a senior at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, says that school spirit is different at an all-boys school. "It's the same, but it's demonstrated differently," he said. "It's a bunch of guys hanging out, and the feeling is there, it's just hard to explain."
"School spirit is important because it gives you a sense of togetherness," said Maddy Barrett, a senior at Clarence High School. She is involved in student council as well as Clarence's Student Improvement Team (SIT), a program that is devoted to welcoming freshmen and drawing students together. She and another senior, Ali Bologna, are committed to making sure students can show their spirit in a number of different ways.
"There's been a dip in school spirit at Clarence lately," Barrett said. "So we're going to try to get some fun apparel together that shows school colors."
"When you come to high school, you have to put yourself out there," said Kezerashvili. "It doesn't matter who you were before. High school is a new setting. If you put yourself in a situation where you can meet new people, that can be one way of showing school spirit."
In the end, jumping into the swing of things by showing some spirit is just common sense, said Barrett.
"You have to spend six hours in school anyway -- why not make it enjoyable?"