LUTZ — However complete it looked — with its brand-new buildings, fresh paint, even its pristine restrooms — George M. Steinbrenner High School still lacked something important when it opened last year.
A senior class.
New high schools in Hillsborough don't open with seniors, who get to stay at and graduate from the schools they've attended the previous three years.
So Steinbrenner opened with 1,567 students last year. There was no senior prom, no graduation and thus no sense of anticipation building toward either.
"As a high school principal, you just feel like you don't have quite a whole school yet when you don't have your seniors," Steinbrenner High principal Brenda Grasso said.
"It lends a level of maturity and a level of excitement to a campus when you have those activities you associate with your senior class," she said. "It's always fun to watch the students preparing for prom or preparing applications for college."
This year, Steinbrenner's enrollment will approach 2,100, with a senior class of about 400. Last year's juniors are this year's seniors, and they want to exercise leadership, foster school spirit and help the school's traditions take root and grow.
"You have to be involved," said Jessica Ramirez, 17, the incoming senior class president. "If you're going to sit there and just not have friends and not care, then of course you're not going to have a good time. You have to make the best of what you have. Being involved is the thing that's going to make you like a school."
A few traditions were established last year. The week of homecoming, students dressed up on various themed days: '60s day, wacky tacky day and twin day. And students got to listen to different kinds of music at lunch every Friday if they picked up their cafeteria trash the rest of the week. They even made up a Warriors hand signal: Hands up, palms out, thumbs touching to form a "W."
This year, both Ramirez and senior Niki LaDue, 17, the president of FFA, said they want to build their organizations and get students more involved in school activities.
But little things can also strengthen a school community. Asked what surprised them about coming to Steinbrenner last year, Ramirez and LaDue both said, no kidding, the restrooms.
"That sounds so dorky, but I was so excited to have clean, new bathrooms," said LaDue, who, like Ramirez, previously attended Sickles High. "I don't understand why bad stuff happens to the bathrooms. It's so, like, to have a toilet seat missing, what?"
That's where taking part in school activities and having pride in the school comes into play, Ramirez said.
"Everything's clean and I hope it stays clean for a while, because this is like our home," she said. "And the way people treat this should be like they treat their home. Hopefully they respect it."
Richard Danielson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403.