Scenes from the first day of school August 29, 2016 around Carroll County. (Emily Chappell / Carroll County Times)
MANCHESTER — The shirts are gray with the phrase "WE ARE ONE" across the front and a paw print and horseshoe side by side on the back.
They might just be T-shirts, but for the communities of Manchester and Hampstead, it's an attempt to unite.
Monday was the first day of school for Carroll County Public Schools. And while the first day can bring jitters for any student, it was particularly different for a group of seniors walking into Manchester Valley High School.
North Carroll High School was one of three schools that closed last year, something school system officials attributed to declining enrollment systemwide. Most of the students from North Carroll, whose mascot was the Panthers, were sent to Manchester Valley to become Mavericks this year.
And while the spring and summer were filled with anger and turmoil within the county over the closures, students seemed to be getting used to the change as they made their way through the halls Monday morning.
Lindsay Seipp and Hallie Bubczyk, both seniors at the school, stood just inside the entrance, encouraging their fellow classmates to grab a free shirt. The teens, both involved in student government, said the shirts were an attempt to help bring all of the students together.
Were they Man Valley holdovers or North Carroll kids?
"It's [for] unity," Seipp said.
The school's Student Government Association was responsible for the shirts, Principal Tom Clowes said. Every student and staff member will get one.
Seipp thought some kids were nervous heading in, but overall, things looked like they were progressing well Monday.
Bubczyk agreed. Everybody she'd seen so far that morning looked happy, she said.
Despite the controversy over the closures, Seipp said the combined schools could help them, especially in sports, since the larger student body gives teams a larger pool of talented athletes from which to choose.
"With more kids, it's going to give us more opportunity," she added.
The school had added administrator and law enforcement presence Monday for the first day. Clowes said this was to help make sure there were no issues with traffic, and no issues with the merging of schools.
"We wanted the first day to be as normal as possible," Clowes said.
And the students have been helpful on that front, he said.
They're working to preserve traditions from both Manchester Valley and North Carroll. Specifically, Clowes said, they'll be keeping Manchester's typical Maverick Stampede, but will also add a homecoming parade, something North Carroll always did, he said.
Student representatives from both schools are also holding positions in student government, Clowes added.
Mackenzie Poist, a senior who came over from North Carroll, said her morning had been going well so far. Poist said she hadn't seen any arguments or struggles between the students.
At first, she said, she was nervous, but being involved in sports — she plays field hockey in the fall season — has helped her get to know some people as the year begins. And, she said, the T-shirts they were giving out were a nice touch. It works to get everyone together.
"I think that helps," she added.
The transition is definitely hard for all the students, especially those coming from a different school, said Anna Geist, a senior. But, they're going to just have to make it work the best they can.
"I think we're all going to fall into being a school again," she said.