About 600 new freshmen joined the ranks of McCracken County High School students when classes started Wednesday.
The day marked the beginning of the new school's second year, as about 2,000 students filed in for a kickoff assembly in the morning before attending classes the rest of the day.
This year's enrollment is up about 150 students from last year's student body of 1,850 because of a smaller senior class graduating last year and larger classes of about 600 freshmen and sophomores this year.
Despite the fact that nearly 2,000 teenagers filled the 300,000-square-foot high school last year, it may look brand new to some entering students.
Principal Michael Ceglinski said keeping the facilities maintained and looking good, even if it's just a repainting, has been a priority of the staff as they've become accustomed to the new facility. It opened to students in August of 2013 after Reidland, Heath and Lone Oak high schools were merged.
The school's 89 teachers, seven administrators and staff members were ready for the larger contingent when students arrived Wednesday.
"Classes are full," Ceglinski said.
At the kickoff assembly, he said faculty and staff worked to get students excited about the school year.
"It's always a good time, and we try to be really high energy. It's something special to be a part of this school," he said. "If the adults in the building are acting excited, so are the kids."
While MCHS students were in school Wednesday, some of the high school's alumni were sharing sentiments on Twitter about how much they wished they were there. Some tweeted that they'd be willing to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to have another day at MCHS.
One person tweeted: "I'm not saying I wanna go through high school again, but I would have loved to have more than one year at McCracken County High School. Good luck youngins."
Ceglinski said the response from MCHS's first class of graduates has been positive.
"That's been neat, these kids who really didn't want to leave," he said. "It speaks volumes about what we're doing here."
While a new building was a major physical change for last year's McCracken County high schoolers who had attended three separate schools, Ceglinski said a philosophical change has been to make students feel unique.
"We've put an effort on making kids special," he said. "We tell them we love them, they matter and they're important."
Ceglinski said teachers try to connect with students and develop a family-like atmosphere. While that may be hard to do in a school with 2,000 students, MCHS uses five separate houses, where designated groups of freshmen through senior students take their core courses in smaller units of the building with only about 400 students each.
Last year, the focus of MCHS's first year was building Mustang Nation, which refers to the MCHS community of parents, faculty and staff, students and the surrounding community. The school leaders also pushed the students' pep name, #StangGang.
This year, Ceglinksi said staff will work more to develop the house culture. All five houses are identified by their number. Students at Wednesday's assembly came in representing their houses by showing their house numbers on their fingers. United Way has joined in on the friendly competition by encouraging the houses to see who can raise the most money.
Ceglinski said he can't believe it's already been one year since the new school opened to students.
He said Wednesday's opening day went smoother than last year's first day. There aren't any new programs or big new plans for this school year, Ceglinski said. Rather, he said the school is working to fine-tune what's already in place.
"We want to make sure we don't divert from our core values," he said.
Ceglinski will speak to students as a part of a back-to-school event hosted by Salt and Light Community Church and both West Kentucky and MCHS's Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at the MCHS performing arts center, the event, titled "From Converse to the #StangGang," will include live music, a painting demonstration and a speech by Ceglinksi on his faith-based experience.
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