Amid all the excitement of Charles County opening its first new high school in a decade, some students, teachers and parents couldn't help worrying a little.
North Point High School in Waldorf had been planned meticulously, no question about it -- LCD projectors in every classroom, doors controlled by magnetic cards and a digital TV studio for morning announcements. But what concerned some in the community was something no one could plan for: school spirit, that intangible life force that dwells in good high schools and can drive the great ones to excellence.
"It's all new to us," said Josh Hatfield, 14, referring to the concept of high school teams, fight songs and pep rallies.
The student body at North Point High School for Science, Technology and Industry consists entirely of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. So when school started in August, many students knew about high school only what they had seen in movies and on television.
Josh, a freshman on the soccer team, noticed that at the first couple of games, few people except the players' parents showed up. And the few students who did come weren't exactly raucous.
But over the past two months, as North Point's sports teams began to gel and improve, so did the fans. Students started showing up with poster board signs. Many started yelling more and chanting, too.
"There's this cheer we've been doing," said cheerleader Aquia Bratcher, 14. "When I say 'Let's go,' you say 'Eagles.' Now, they actually yell 'Eagles' back."
This budding school spirit has emerged just in time for today's official dedication ceremony, and, perhaps even more important among students, it has come in time for their first pep rally and home football game Wednesday.
Today's ceremony will be the more subdued of the two events. A luncheon will begin at 11 a.m., with the dedication to follow at 1 p.m. There will be speeches by school officials, handshakes and much clapping. The new school song, "Like an Eagle," will be sung. The architects and others will receive symbolic keys to the school.
The football game will be a ritual of a different sort. The team is undefeated, but because workers have been putting the final touches on the school stadium, the Eagles have yet to play at home.
"It's going to be crazy. I mean, like crazeee!" said Alli Sharper, 14, a freshman who will sing with the school's choral group at both events.
"It's going to be packed," her friend Katie Hupp, 14, added with a nod. "Everybody's going to be there."
Both events this week come at the end of the new high school's first two months, which teachers, parents and students say were largely successful.
The $64 million high school project has been seven years in the making. Intended to serve as a traditional neighborhood school and an application-only program with courses such as biotechnology, computer networking and culinary arts, the school complex is also being used to ease crowding in county schools. The middle school grades will be phased out over the next couple of years as those students advance.
From the outside, the structure looks like an industrial park of shiny glass and cool cement.
Inside the building, the main hallway stretches the length of 21/2 football fields. Some students said they became lost during the first few days of school because of North Point's size.
Before the school opened, administrators gave the hallways street names to make getting around less confusing.
"It breaks the large building down so it's like a little neighborhood," Principal Peter Cevenini said. "Now we can give people instructions like take the first left on Cobb Island Drive."
Throughout the building are loads of high-tech features. Cevenini and other administrators keep wireless phones in their pockets hooked up to a Wi-Fi network that permeates the school.
School officials watch for trouble on tablet laptop computers that can display digital feeds from more than 20 cameras throughout the building.
The student council makes the morning announcements using streaming video from a TV studio with a window backdrop that can open up to the schoolyard a la the "Today" show, complete with students waving in the background.
A lot of attention has been put into the small details as well. When athletic director A.K. Johnson ordered equipment for the workout room, he insisted on getting the school's eagle emblem put onto the back of the weightlifting benches.
"Every time you open a new place, you got to get the kids tied into it," Johnson said. "For a lot of these kids, this is their first experience with all of this. You want them to feel like 'This is us, this is our place.' "
A school mascot costume has been ordered, with the requisite big eagle head and feathered arms and boots. There's even talk of ordering a second costume for nights when more than one of the school's various sports teams are playing.
"I already got people lining up," Johnson said of mascot candidates. Many eager students have volunteered; several parents have even asked.
As for the school teams, they have weathered their first season with varying success. With all-freshman teams, some have had to play against well-knit teams of sophomores and juniors from other schools.
"Some of the guys we played were a lot bigger," said Josh Hatfield from the soccer team. Pointing to his teammate Eric Reitz, he said, "Me and Eric are about the biggest on our team, and I'm just 5 foot 8.
"Yeah, we didn't do so well, but toward the end, our team started to get pretty good. Next year we'll be a lot more competitive."
Having a student population of all freshmen and middle school students has radically changed the social dynamic as well.
"It's like we're a high school, but in some ways we're not," said Alli Sharper after practicing in the choral room for the dedication ceremony.
Beside her, fellow ninth-graders Katie Hupp and Aquia Bratcher chimed in.
"I mean, it's good in some ways, though," Katie said. "For one thing, you don't have upperclassmen to put you down."
"And we have to prove ourselves 'cause we're the first ones here ever," Aquia said.
The conversation quickly turned back to what had most students buzzing about all last week: the first home football game and the craziness that would surely come with it.
"It's going to be huge," Katie said.
"Yeah, it's the first time for so many things," Alli said. "We're like making history here."