Play to explore labels kids wear, pin on peers

December 20, 1992|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

Life seemed so much simpler when there were just jocks and nerds.

In decades past, high school kids were often lumped into one of the two crowds. Now the suburban teen-age landscape is so crowded with labels it resembles a map of the former Soviet Union.

"When I got to high school there wasn't "popular" and "unpopular," said Jessica Stearman, a 16-year-old at Oakland Mills High School in Howard County. "There were the Grits and the Nerds and the Punks and the Preps and the Trendies and the Jocks."

Not to mention the Yos and the Brainiacs and the Hippies, the latter being a subgroup of the Freaks, Jessica said.

"I label myself a Freak."

Over the next several months, Jessica and about 30 other high school students will interview people throughout Howard County about how they have suffered by being labeled. They are collecting anecdotes to help script a musical with a professional theater.

For the second year in a row, Howard County students will coproduce an original production at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia. Last year's show focused on the pressure parents put on students to succeed.

This year's show is expected to debut next September, said Lynn Broderick, a Centennial High School English and Drama teacher who is organizing the project.

During a meeting last week, Ms. Broderick talked to students about interviewing skills and note taking, but the fun part was just listening to them describe the high school social scene circa 1992. At the most superficial level, high school students are defined by what they wear and their choice in music.

For instance, "a Trendy follows trends," said Jessica. "They wear all the labeled brands and they have to look perfect all the time."

Trendies shop at chain clothing stores like the Gap, the Limited and Britches Great Outdoors, she said. They lean toward brand names like Guess.

Grits, also known as Headbangers, love heavy metal music and tend toward long hair and denim or leather jackets. Josh Tomberlin, 16, of Centennial High School, counts himself among them.

Josh is wearing a black denim jacket, black jeans and a black Harley Davidson cap. He adores heavy metal.

Josh doesn't have a whole lot in common with the Yos

What's a Yo?

"Everyone who likes rap" music, Josh said. "All the Jocks. All the white guys who try to act black."

Yo is an attention-getting expression used in some rap songs.

Yos like to wear Starter brand warm-up jackets, gold chains and pagers, said Jessica. There are so many Yos at her school some people call it Yoakland Mills, she said.

A beeper says its owner is so popular and so busy that he is hard to contact otherwise, Jessica said.

"You've got normal people, like me," said Brian Pakulla, 15, of Howard High School. "I'm just friendly with everybody. I try not to stereotype people."

But with a gold chain tucked inside his sweat shirt, Brian wouldn't remain a free agent for long at Oakland Mills, Jessica said.

"You'd be a labeled as a Yo," she said. "If you walked into my school, you'd be labeled as a wannabe Yo"

Jessica, a junior with long, brown hair, says some teachers label her based on her appearance, which this day included a purple Guatemalan pullover, black pants, nine earrings and several necklaces. "Once they get to know me, they're, like, 'Oh, Wow! she's a really hard worker.' Other teachers still think I'm a bad kid and they never give me the chance."

During the meeting, Toby Orenstein, whose dinner theater will ,, stage the production, asked students to label her. Ms. Orenstein, 56, wore a black sweater and pants with a black and white checked coat.

One student said that, based on her appearance, she assumed Ms. Orenstein would reek of perfume, smoke heavily and pop chewing gum in her mouth.

"You're name would be "Liz," or something short," one girl suggested.

Ms. Orenstein described herself as a sensitive, compulsive person. See, she said, "you're all wrong."

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