Kids wearing new backpacks stuffed with school supplies headed to school Monday at U.S. military bases outside the United States, the first day of classes at most Department of Defense Dependents Schools overseas.
Despite the overcast, gloomy morning that dawned in western Germany, some students were eager to hit the books after more than two months off.
“One of the fifth-grade boys said, ‘I’m tired of sleeping in,’ ” said Vogelweh Elementary School principal Sandy Meacham, standing in front of the school’s outdoor basketball courts, where over 900 students had formed long queues behind their teachers. “He was the first one in line.”
Meacham was fired up about the first day, which happened to fall on her 60th birthday.
“We’re ready, we’re ready to go,” she said.
But not everyone was as enthusiastic about going back to school.
Baumholder senior Sarah Ann Predmore, 17, said she hit the snooze button about five times Monday, “so I wasn’t that excited” to go back to school. She said she just wants to get the year over with so she can move on to college. “But I’m OK. It’s nice to be settling back in.”
“I’m hoping for snow days this year,” Predmore added. “That’s about it.”
There were also tears and plenty of first-day jitters at some places.
At Aviano Elementary School in Italy, Ysabella Esparza, about to attend her first day of first grade, managed only a slight nod of the head when asked if she was excited.
“She’s nervous, but she’s excited,” said her mother, Liz Trebino.
Dionne Montgomery took several pictures of her children, Jimmie (ninth grade), Deon (seventh grade) and Nevaeh (first grade) before they went to school assemblies.
“Very big day,” she said. “Kind of sad. Trying to keep it together. Got one in ninth grade now, so only four more years for him.”
In Bahrain the excitement of a new school year was dampened by the death of a longtime DODDS teacher earlier this month. Kathleen Murphy, 63, was a French and German teacher at the Bahrain Middle/High School who had worked for the Department of Defense Education Activity since 1982.
“We’re working to move forward; it’s not going to be easy,” said Terry Greene, the school’s new principal.
Murphy’s unexpected death devastated students and faculty, who were unaware of any medical conditions she might have had. Murphy was expected to teach this year in the same classroom she had for 29 years. Her absence there was overwhelming for those who knew her.
Iman Khan, an 11th-grader who had been one of Murphy’s French students for the past two years, considered dropping out of the class this year. “I just couldn’t imagine being in a classroom without her, especially since her personal style is so unique... you want her there with you,” said Iman. She decided not to drop out of the course, believing that Murphy would have wanted her to continue studying French.
“She really cared about us actually learning the language and learning the culture,” Iman said.
In both the Pacific and Europe, fewer students headed back to the classroom.
As of Friday, 28,509 pupils had enrolled in Europe schools, down about 2,000 from the same time last year. Part of that decline is due to the closure of five schools at the end of the previous school year, all in Germany: Wetzel Elementary School in Baumholder and the schools in Bamberg and Schweinfurt. That leaves 71 schools in Europe, a number that will drop again at the end of this school year, when Menwith Hill in England and Lajes Elementary/High School in Portugal are slated to close. The Menwith closure was announced last year in anticipation of a potential sharp drop in student enrollment. Only about 129 students were enrolled at the elementary-to-high school as of Friday.
In the Pacific, 21,792 students are enrolled in 49 schools in Japan, Guam, Okinawa and Korea. That’s down about 1,354 from late August a year ago, according to school enrollment figures.
It was business as usual at most schools, though a few places saw some big changes over the summer. Elementary and middle school students in Brussels started the year in new buildings, marking the first time the elementary will have all of its classes in the same building, said Frank Roehl, Isles District superintendent. Officials expect the high school students will move into a new facility early next year.
In Japan, the new Ikego Elementary School opened its doors to 390 students Monday. The school at the Navy housing area near Yokosuka replaces an older building and makes room for new students who attended school at the Negishi housing area last year.
Negishi’s Byrd Elementary School was shuttered in June as part of a plan to return the Negishi area to the Japanese government at the end of 2015.
The new school was fully funded by the Japanese government under a bilateral support agreement.
In South Korea, Camp Casey Elementary is likely entering its final year of operations as U.S. Forces Korea makes plans to relocate the bulk of its soldiers to Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek.
Perhaps the biggest change was at Wiesbaden High School in Germany, where students headed to class inside stacked modular buildings linked together by steel walkways and concrete. The 36 temporary classrooms are being used while construction begins on Wiesbaden’s new high school. Four of Wiesbaden’s old high school buildings are being demolished in the coming months to make way for a new $52 million school designed to meet DODEA’s 21st Century education facilities specifications. The new 102,000-square-foot structure should take about two years to complete.
Eric A. Brown, Kent Harris, Adam Mathis, Matt Millham, Hendrick Simoes and Erik Slavin contributed to this story.