Just by the numbers, the two new high schools opening in Prince William County are impressive.
Each has 51 regular classrooms, with additional classrooms designated for lab work and specialty programs. Each has a television studio, a football stadium, nine tennis courts and competition baseball and softball fields.
But those are just statistics. An impressive reputation, say the students who will attend Battlefield and Freedom high schools this year, doesn't come with the package. The exciting part is that they get to build it themselves.
For the young cheerleading squad at Freedom, building a reputation means bringing home a spirit trophy from cheerleading camp after knowing each other only a handful of days. For the marching band at Battlefield, now numbering 41 students, it means a dream of winning a prestigious award after only its first year.
Because of their extracurricular activities, these students have already spent a lot of time at their schools well before they opened, making friends and preparing for the new year. Most said they're a bit nervous but ready for the year to start.
"I want this to be the spirit school," said Laura Dixon, a 16-year-old junior who attended Woodbridge High before transferring voluntarily to Freedom. (Only rising freshman and sophomores were required to attend the new schools.)
"I want people to feel welcome, that they don't have to come and be a certain kind of person," Dixon said.
Joe Gosselin, a 14-year-old Battlefield freshman, said he wants people to think Battlefield "is an awesome school. They're just really good at everything."
Battlefield and Freedom are just two of the five schools opening Sept. 7 in the fast-growing Prince William school district. Ellis Elementary, near Stonewall Jackson High School, will serve students in the western part of the county. Williams Elementary, near Potomac High, will relieve crowding in the east. Porter School, a "traditional" school, will draw from the eastern end of the county.
But even for a district that opens several schools every year, opening two high schools at the same time has been a feat. Redrawing the boundaries took some students out of schools that had built up decades-old traditions. Incoming freshmen faced leaving their middle schools and being one in a crowd of new faces.
"I was so nervous, because I heard all the stories about high school, how the seniors beat you and shove you in the lockers," said Brittany Burnley, a 13-year-old Freedom freshman. "But at least I have some backup."
Jorge Liloy, a 15-year-old sophomore at Battlefield, took his first tour of the school last week.
"I came here to start fresh," said Liloy, a trombone player in the marching band. "Brand new school, brand new year. And it'll be easier not starting out as a freshman."
Meagan Boyd, the cheerleading coach at Freedom, said it was easy to get her girls to bond. At the cheerleading camp, where they earned the school's first extracurricular award, other coaches were amazed that the school was brand-new.
"These girls are very excited to be here, and they all bonded really quickly," said Boyd, who is also a business teacher at Freedom. "We keep telling them they're setting the standard for everyone who is going to follow them."
The newness factor also gives students a chance to be leaders.
"The band right now is mostly freshman," Liloy said. "I feel responsible to try to help out as much as I can. I explain it to them because it's all new to them, and that's what sophomores are for."
Danielle Hettman, 14, a freshman at Battlefield, is the band's drum major. At Stonewall Jackson High, the school she would have attended prior to Battlefield's opening, the spot likely would have gone to a junior or senior. "But now I'll get to build along with the band."
It's exciting, the students said. Liloy wants the band to win a Virginia Honor Band citation. "We want people to look at us and see that we could do it in our first year," he said.
And even though some of the young football players grumbled about the cheerleaders bringing home an award before they could, the cheerleaders said they're happy to blaze a path.
"We're the first ones to try out for Freedom High School, ever. We're the first to have a trophy," said Nyeshia Lockett, a 14-year-old freshman. "It's very cool."