Kids put on a class act as DODEA schools welcome students back

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Students and staff return to Yokota High School at Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015.   James Kimber/Stars and Stripes
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Students and staff return to Yokota High School at Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. James Kimber/Stars and Stripes

Kids put on a class act as DODEA schools welcome students back

by: . | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 01, 2015

Classes began Monday for most Defense Department-run schools overseas, with parents and children — some attending base schools for the first time — enthusiastic about the first day of the new year.

“I learned how to say good night in Japanese — oyasumi,” said Kurtisy Chase, 7, after her first day at Yokota Air Base’s Joan K. Mendel Elementary, as she waited to cross the road with her mother, Michelle Chase, 25, and brother Kurtis, 6.

The family moved to Yokota in March from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., said Chase, whose husband is an Air Force staff sergeant.

“I expected the school to be more Japanese,” she said of Mendel, and less like Missouri schools.

At Yokosuka Naval Base, Sharee Perez and her son Antonio, 10, waited outside Yokosuka Middle School for her daughter Alianna, 13. The Perez family arrived just a few months ago, and this is the first time the kids have attended a base school.

Alianna was optimistic about the school year.

“The class sizes are smaller here than the schools I went to, and there is less time in between classes. The classes are going to be harder here, but I look forward to it.”

Antonio, who attended his first day at the base’s Sullivans Elementary, could hardly hide his enthusiasm. “The teachers are really nice, and the school is huge.”

In Vicenza, Italy, a thousand or so pupils at Vicenza middle and elementary schools gathered into groups around their new teachers.

Sadie Dickerson, 6, was as calm as could be. However, her mother, Diane, admitted to “feeling a little anxious,” as it would be the first time Sadie would take the bus home by herself. “We hope she’s going to come home on the right bus.”

A scorching sun also greeted students at Ramstein Middle School in Germany, where more than 800 students and many of their parents filled the muggy hallways during a schoolwide open house.

Eighth-grader Alli Mehringer was all smiles as she filed into school, flanked by two friends. She had already found what she was most looking forward to: “Friends,” she said. Anything else? “Meeting new teachers and that’s pretty much it,” she said.

At U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, parents waited outside Seoul American Elementary, some with babies and toddlers in tow, for school to let out.

Melissa Seaton’s 9-year-old daughter, Allie, started fourth grade in a new school. The family moved from Fort Lewis, Wash., two months ago, and her daughter was a little nervous because she hadn’t met many other kids yet.

Mom’s advice? “Just smile and be friendly,” Seaton said. “She’s always done well everywhere else, so we know she’ll do just fine here.”

For some students, the return to school was familiar.

Jakeb Miller was returning to Grafenwoehr Elementary for fifth grade. “We went back to Kansas for a few years, and now we’re back in Germany,” he said. “At least for school I know where everything is. I’m not new to everything.”

Tim Beier was starting kindergarten at Grafenwoehr. His mother, Stephanie Beier, who is German, was nervous. “It’s really different from the German kindergarten,” she said, more focused on learning than play. But Tim’s father, Spc. Aaron Beier, said: “I think he’ll be fine. He’s really strong. It’ll just take a few days to get used to it.”

Not everyone began classes Monday. The Bahrain School started a week earlier, and in Stuttgart, Germany, the first day of school was pushed to Wednesday to give educators more time to prepare for a host of changes, including the opening of two new school buildings.

On Friday, students and parents got an advance look at the new Stuttgart High School campus, which will house about 750 students.

“This is definitely the best-looking school I’ve ever gone to,” said 10th-grader Gabby Newland. “And it’s so clean you could eat off the floor.”

The school, which is connected to Panzer Kaserne by a tunnel, was designed with a heavy focus on information technology. Areas are set aside for online learning, and there are enough computers that students no longer need to rely on personal laptops, students said.

There have also been changes at other DODEA schools.

Lakenheath High School in England is ending a program that provided every student with a laptop computer. The move met with a mixed reaction from students, though Isles District Superintendent Frank Roehl doesn’t expect any negative impact. Kyle Selander, a sophomore, said the laptops made it easier to transfer work between school and home, but Emily Pettit, also a sophomore, was happy to see them go, as they would crash “without fail” before a homework deadline.

At the elementary school in Naples, Italy, Principal Chris Beane said more than 20 new teachers had arrived over the summer, many of them from Ansbach, Germany, where the Rainbow Elementary School has closed. His students and teachers, like those at other DODEA schools, will be dealing with a new math curriculum, part of DODEA’s rollout of the College and Career Readiness program, the agency’s name for the curriculum known stateside as the Common Core.

“Taking on a new curriculum can lead to anxiety, but I think they’re excited about the possibilities,” Beane said.

In Grafenwoehr, Principal Matthew Kralevich was enthusiastic about the school, where he has worked for four years. He has worked in the DODEA system for seven years.

“I love it,” he said. “To be a part of a community like this is something special. I feel we have the greatest parents, greatest kids and the greatest teachers. What is there to not be proud of?”

Stars and Stripes reporters Tyler Hlavac, Seth Robson, Ashley Rowland, Michael S. Darnell, Steven Beardsley, Jennifer Svan, Nancy Montgomery, Adam L. Mathis and John Vandiver contributed to this report.

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