"I thought I was going to have all mean teachers who would yell at you and give you lots of homework," said Danica's classmate at Hicks, Reka Lewis, 14, of Hagerstown. "But it's just one big ball of experience. It's really fun."
Caitlan Hoover agreed. She said she expected the transition from Hicks to South High to be rocky, with harder classes.
"I didn't think it would be this easy or this fun," said Caitlan, 14, of Hagerstown. "I like it that they treat you like you're older here."
High school is "a piece of cake," added Josh Wallech, 14, of Hagerstown. "My math test this year was easier than the test (at Smithsburg Middle School) last year."
What do they miss about middle school? Except a few cool teachers, nothing.
What do they like better about high school? Except for super-crowded hallways and too few bathroom passes (three), a whole lot.
Even the food's better
The eight freshmen said they preferred high school's later start time, longer classes, diverse student population, fewer classes per semester, expanded list of extracurricular activities, opportunity to exercise more freedom and responsibility - and better cafeteria food.
Most of the students said they like being able to sleep later in the morning, since high school starts about an hour after middle school. Only Reka said she preferred middle school's earlier school day. Similarly, just about everybody said they liked high school's 90-minute classes, as opposed to the 45-minute classes in middle school.
"I like getting to learn more," said Chris Boward, 13, of Hagerstown. The former eighth-grader at Western Heights Middle School said he really likes all he's learning in his social studies class.
"The longer classes give you more time to learn the things you need to learn," Danica agreed. Longer class periods also can mean more time to start homework before the bell rings, said Ryan Turpin, 14, of Hagerstown.
For Josh, though, it's harder to stay interested in the same subject for an hour and a half.
All of the students said they liked splitting their eight-class course load over two semesters. Local high school students take four classes each semester, as opposed to eight classes daily in middle school. For Ryan, that means more time to devote to English, his most difficult subject - and his only academic class next semester.
Unlike in middle school, students from different high school grade levels can share the same classrooms. Danica and her peers said sharing space with upperclassmen was generally a cool experience - as long as the freshmen mind their manners.
"You learn new experiences," Reka said. "But don't walk in front of people without saying 'excuse me.' They might trip you."
Above all, the freshmen said, high school offers them a chance to be more responsible and make more choices. While their middle-school teachers often made sure they got the work they missed when they were absent, their high-school teachers leave that task up to the students.
"I think it's better because it shows if you're responsible or not," said Anysa Lovett, 13, of Hagerstown.
She and her classmates said they also liked selecting their classes, and choosing from a lengthy list of extracurricular options. Anysa, who plans to try out for the South High basketball team, especially enjoys her high-school drama class - a course that suits her personality.
"My dad calls me a drama queen," she said.
Reka said her membership on South High's varsity cheerleading squad has made her feel more connected to the school. Tara Dunham, 14, of Hagerstown, said she likes all the physical education class choices that South High offers.
"You're just a lot freer in high school. There's a lot more happening," Danica said. "It makes you feel more grown-up."