And just like that, summer is over.
Tens of thousands of students returned to U.S. Department of Defense schools overseas Monday, many waking up earlier than they had in months to return to an age-old routine that at least some were happy to revive.
“I’m going to have to get used to going to bed earlier again,” said Isabella Miller, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Wetzel Elementary in Baumholder. “But still, I’m pretty excited about school,” she said, organizing her new school supplies into a neat pile.
Teachers and administrators had been preparing for this day for weeks, if not longer, readying lessons, making name tags, “making sure everybody has everything that they need,” said Angie Cotton, principal of Wetzel Elementary School.
“It’s just been very busy,” she said. “And it continues to be busy, but they’re here now, and that’s a good thing,” she said of the students. “It was too quiet without them, so I’m glad they’re back.”
In much of western Germany, a steady rain fell on students as they trudged to class, but squeals of laughter soon echoed through the crowded hallways of Kaiserslautern’s high school.
Senior Sarah Deuster said she was happy to be back in school for one simple reason: “I missed my friends.”
Outside the front doors of Naples Middle/High School in southern Italy, principal Duane Werner stood beside a pair of student council members and greeted his returning charges as they filed inside.
They arrived in baseball hats and sunglasses, towing band instruments or cupcakes for their classroom. Some entered with friends, laughing, and others walked alone. One mother placed her son in front of the school sign and took a photo.
“Hats off before you go inside,” Werner said to several boys.
Like other school administrators, and most DOD civilians, Werner was forced to take a handful of furlough days over the summer. Plans called for schools to close for five days in the coming year, but that decision was recently reversed.
“Any time you have five days out of the classroom, that’s significant,” Werner said. Who knows what the next fiscal year will bring, he said.
Thousands fewer students showed up for the first day of school in Europe than did last year due to the downsizing of the U.S. military presence in the region.
Seventy-five schools welcomed students Monday — four fewer than last year, according to figures from Department of Defense Dependents Schools Europe. Three schools in Heidelberg, Germany, closed in June, and tiny Bitburg Middle School, near Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, shuttered and combined with Bitburg High, said DODDS-Europe spokesman Bob Purtiman.
As of late August, Europe’s school enrollment was 30,523 – down from 33,121 at about the same time last year, according to enrollment figures on the Department of Defense Education Activity website.
Meanwhile, enrollment is up modestly in the Pacific, from 22,766 at the start of last school year to 23,146 this year, according to DODEA figures.
Construction delays for a new high school at Camp Humphreys in South Korea were one thing some students weren’t too excited about.
Principal Shelly Kennedy asked the students if they were disappointed that the new building wasn’t ready. Hands sprung up.
“Our whining is over,” she told them. “There is nothing we can do about that. But that is not going to stop us from being the best school on the Korean Peninsula. Am I right?” she said to applause.
Back in Germany, a class of fourth- and fifth-graders settled into their new seats at Wetzel Elementary as coach and teacher Micheline Huntley asked, “Are you excited about being here?”
A quiet “Yes,” came in reply.
“I was kind of mad because I didn’t want the summer to end,” said Wetzel fourth-grader Hope Diaz, age 9. “And now that I’m back, it’s kind of fun.”
Stars and Stripes reporters Armando R. Limon, Steven Beardsley, Matt Millham and Jennifer H. Svan contributed to this report.