Rick Gardner and his daughter Sarah came to the first open house for Apex Friendship High School. About a week later, they returned to the school – for a second open house – just to see what progress had been made at the brand new school.
“It’s really nice,” said Sarah Gardner, swiveling around on a futuristic-looking chair in the large second-floor media center, with its wide wall of windows overlooking the campus.
Sarah, 15, will be a sophomore when she starts school Monday in the $59 million building. She plays saxophone and spent much of July and August at school, learning the new fight song alongside the rest of the marching band.
She’s coming from Apex High School and said she’s excited to have seniority these next three years. Apex Friendship won’t have any juniors or seniors when it opens with 1,000 students on Monday.
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Having only ninth- and 10th-graders this fall has created a group without strong ties, or any ties for that matter, to any other high school. Eventually, the school will have more than 2,200 students.
Friendship’s students previously attended Apex, Holly Springs or Panther Creek high schools. Many of the incoming students are clamoring for the chance to help shape Apex Friendship in its first year, to help the school form its own identity and its own sense of community.
Principal Matt Wight said the opportunity to become a team captain, be active in student council or get the lead role in a play has made many incoming students more excited to get involved than a typical freshman or sophomore might be.
A full month before the start of school, many of the school’s clubs and sports teams already have held multiple meetings. The PTSA is off to a strong start. The athletics and band booster clubs have formed and are were raising money. A recent football scrimmage drew 500 fans.
“I’ve been really pleased, and pleasantly surprised,” said Wight, who was principal of Apex High School for nearly a decade before coming to Apex Friendship.
Despite the generally high level of support, some new students and parents were skeptical of the school’s name when it was selected in 2013. The name divided the school board and residents, many of whom preferred West Apex High, which the board had approved in 2011.
Then, some said having “Friendship” in the name seemed inappropriate for a high school, and hundreds of people signed a petition to keep West Apex.
But the name has ties to the area’s history. In the early 20th century, a group of white, black and Native American citizens settled in the area between Apex and New Hill with the goal of living harmoniously together. They called their new town Friendship, and it has stuck for the past 100-plus years. A large contingent of Friendship residents, many of whom are minorities, said they wanted Friendship in the name to pay tribute to the area’s history.
Wight said he has received some good-natured teasing about it from other school leaders.
But, he added, “To be honest, as the principal of a high school starting brand new, I can’t think of a better name for a school.
“Especially when we’re bringing several different communities together, trying to unite them in a new culture,” he said.
Efforts to build school spirit started months ago, when a group of future students helped officials pick out the mascot (the Patriots); the logo (a man in a tricorner hat); and the colors (red and blue).
Another 30 students signed up as ambassadors. They came to all the open houses and other events this summer to guide people around the four-story school and answer questions.
“I’m hoping that group will be the seed group of our student council,” Wight said.
Nicole Van Liew and Jade Martin, both 14-year-old rising freshmen, are two of those ambassadors. They said getting into student government was a major reason why they volunteered.
“I thought it was a good way for people to get to know me, even before school started, and to be involved,” Nicole said. “Colleges will like that, too.”
Eager parents, teachers
During one open house, parents sometimes seemed more awed by the school, and all it offers, than their teenage offspring were.
One father told his son they weren’t leaving until he signed up for at least one club or sports team. Other parents induced eye rolls by marvelling at the colorful hallways, or giving unsolicited tips on choosing the best locker location.
Ronda Hintermeister, president of the PTSA, said getting parents involved is key to helping students achieve their full potential.
“We have been working hard all summer to come up with exciting events for our staff, our students and our parents to make them feel welcome and appreciated,” she said.
The teachers are excited, too.
“You get to come in and set the tone,” said Brittany Probst, the French teacher.
The teachers bring a wide range of experience, including some Wight hired from other states.
Probst is relatively new to the profession and previously taught in more rural Lee County. Social studies teacher John Rothenburg, whose classroom is down the hall from Probst, taught her when she attended Broughton High School.
The walls in Probst’s bright, spacious room are dotted with newspaper articles and posters, all in French. They cover topics from sports to weather, politics and space travel.
There’s also a 70-inch television, laptops for the students and a bluetooth connection to enable multimedia lessons.
“It’s just so exciting to come in and be able to do the amazing things we’re set up to do here,” she said.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Meet Apex Friendship High
The details: The four-story school at 7801 Humie Olive Road, Apex, has 111 classrooms. The 315,752-square-foot building is on 108 acres. It cost $59 million.
Enrollment: The school will open with about 1,000 students in ninth and 10th grades and will eventually have more than 2,200 students as it adds juniors next year and seniors the following year.
Mascot and colors: The Patriots, red and blue
School hours: 7:25 a.m. to 2:18 p.m.
Wake County Public Schools
This is the first in an occasional series about Apex Friendship High School’s first year.